Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Arthur Marshall and my favourite misprint

When I was in the sixth form I used to hurry down to Preedy's after school on Fridays to buy their only copy of the New Statesman. I usually got it, though I do recall missing out on the controversial issue produced to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee. In those days before Princess Di and the royals' sell out to celebrity culture, it was still controversial to attack the monarchy.

For my 25p I got a leading article on the front page (which seemed terribly grown up), James Fenton's witty political commentary on page 2 and a Garland cartoon on page 3. Though I was pretty sure by then that I was a liberal and not a socialist, there was an awful lot to enjoy in the Statesman.

On of the more recherché pleasures, to be found near the back of the magazine, was Arthur Marshall's column "Musings from Myrtlebank". That its gentle outlook on life and tortured syntax could flourish in a left-wing political magazine was a tribute to the liberal editorship of Anthony Howard. I presume Marshall was shot by militant lesbians shortly after Bruce Page took over and ruined everything.

Earlier this year I bought a second-hand copy of the Penguin Book of Columnists in a bookshop in Ballater. I was pleased to see that Marshall was represented by two of his Myrtlebank columns.

In one of them (attributed to a collection of his writing from 1981, though it must have run in the Statesman a few years earlier) he recalls his days at public school. He writes that his housemaster would treat his charges "at pleasantly recurring intervals to sensational moral lectures of a prolonged and fascinating lectures".

Marshall goes on:

We found them totally electrifying for he was a brilliant speaker, had obviously conscientiously prepared his material, and was quite unaware, that to young people, he was a hilarious figure. Every so often after evening prayers he would stand up and speaking without notes, let fly.

As a new boy, I couldn't always understand why he was so concerned and what had gone wrong. Had somebody, perhaps, said "Drat" or been rude to Matron or left some gristle or smiled at a boy older or younger (you couldn't smile at a boy in another house at all, and, as I was by nature an inane smiler, I was at constant risk)?

But at time went on I began to get the hang of the affair and the gist of the matter and hung upon the housemaster's words, later in the day to be so splendidly mimicked by wags as we disrobed, shrieking, for bed, and cackled ourselves into the Land of Nod.

I was particularly pleased to find this column because I recalled that when the column originally appeared what was printed was not "cackled ourselves into the Land of Nod" but "tackled ourselves into the Land of Nod". I also recalled Marshall rather pained correction the following week.

All this seems to good to be true, but a few years ago I was in Leicester University Library having a nostalgic flick through some bound volumes of the New Statesman from the period. While I was absent-mindedly copying some of James Fenton's best lines into my notebook, I came across this very Arthur Marshall column.

And my memory was right. It really did happen.

1 comment:

Iain said...

Amazingly also, Auberon Waugh was Arthur Marshall's predecessor in 'First person' column in the Staggers. When at Leicester University in the 80s I leafed through the same bound volumes as you did and thought that the NS was a very good paper under Anthony Howard.

By 1982 when I began reading the weeklies the NS was bordering on the unreadable unless you had an obsessive interest in Labour's internal wranglings.

I started reading the Spectator and have only just defected back to the NS which is now rather enjoyable and amusing apart from John Pilger.