So you think you know your alphabet?

Clapham and Dwyer were a British comedy duo in the 1930s who were famously banned by BBC Radio for telling a risqué joke on air. Nowadays, of course, anything goes.

Clapham-Dwyer(1) Self-billed as “The Wireless Nuisances”, Charles Clapham (1894-1959) and Billy Dwyer (1891-1943) were the original radio comedy double act and the first broadcasters ever to fall foul of the BBC censor. Before becoming known to listeners, Clapham was a clerk in the office of a King’s Counsel, and Dwyer was a commercial traveller.

Clapham, always wearing a top hat and sporting a monocle, had a capacity for spouting a form of hesitant nonsense. He was slim and gave the air of being slightly aristocratic. It was the job of Dwyer, squat and rotund, to try to interpret for the audience what he was going on about. One of their acts was called “A Spot of Bother”, some of which centred on a cow named Cissie, which for no reason at all kept cropping up in conversation.

One day they were performing in their regular radio spot on the BBC’s Light Programme. The slot was broadcast live and when a page of their script went missing, they ad-libbed:

“What’s the difference between a champagne cork and a baby?” asked Clapham. When Dwyer said he didn’t know, back came the answer: “A champagne cork has the name of the maker on it.” Imbued with the lofty values of its founding director general John Reith, the BBC took a dim view of anything approaching smut and banned them for six months.

Clapham-Dwyer(2)The pair appeared in cabaret and also made short films for British Pathé. The photo (right) comes from “Play and Playfulness” (1936), a sketch about a man on a train who is joined by a drunken toff. One of Clapham and Dwyer’s best known inventions became popular in the 1930s and they later recorded as “The Surrealist Alphabet”. Extremely “British”, it is reminiscent of the kind of word play later indulged in by The Two Ronnies (fork handles / four candles) and well worth memorising:

A for ’orses (Hay for Horses)
B for Mutton (Beef or mutton)
C for th’ ’ighlanders (Seaforth Highlanders)
D for ential (Differential)
E for Adam (Eve for Adam)
F for vessence (Effervesence)
G for police (Chief of police)
H for respect (Have respect)
I for novello (Ivor Novello)
J for orange (Jaffa orange)
K for ancis (Kay Francis) – an American film and stage actress
L for leather (Hell for leather)
M for sis (Emphasis)
N for lope (Envelope)
O for the garden wall (Over the garden wall)
P for relief (Pee for relief) – this the BBC would never have allowed!
Q for music (Cue for music)
R for mo (’Arf a mo)
S for you (it’s for you)
T for 2 (Tea for two)
U for films – the universal film rating made them suitable for children
V for la France (Viva la France)
W for a fiver (Double you for a fiver)
X for breakfast (Eggs for breakfast)
Y for God’s sake (Why, for God’s sake)
Z for breezes (Zephyr breezes).


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