Peter Sellers as Queen Victoria and Spike Milligan as McGonagall in Joe McGrath’s THE GREAT MCGONAGALL, filmed in Glorious Brownoscope.
Marvelous Mary had her annual William Topaz McGonagall anniversary dinner, in honour of Scotland’s great contribution to literature, the world’s worst poet.
That dynamo of dourness, John Laurie, reads a McGonagall “classic”.
For the first time I heard the theory that the Great McGonagall might have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, which I guess would explain why he never quite took in the fact that his poetry wasn’t greatly respected, nor any good. An artist like Modigliani could continue in the face of universal indifference driven by the fact he knew his work was great. The only difference with McGonagall is that his unshakeable self-belief was entirely misplaced. He should have had unshakeable self-disbelief. The only difference between William McGonagall and a genius, in other words, is that William McGonagall was not a genius.
Last year I composed a couplet in the McGonagall style (no scansion or rhythm, with a contrived rhyme at the end) to widespread acclaim at the dinner table. It was on the theme of the sinking of the Titanic, since McGonagall loved to versify about great disasters such as the collapse of the Tay Bridge. This year, since it’s the anniversary of the sinking, it was required of me to write the whole poem, despite the fact that nobody, especially me, could remember the original couplet. This is what I scrawled at dinner, based on the McGonagall principles of humorlessness, lachrymose bathos, fractured sing-song beats, and clunking repetitions —
ODE ON THE SINKING OF THE SHIP “TITANIC”
It was in the year of nineteen hundred and twelve
That the Titanic into the ocean did delve.
She sank like a stone, though of steel she was made
And the passengers on deck were extremely dismayed.
When she set sail from Liverpool dock
The crowds at the harbour did clamour and flock
For none did suspect that this unsinkable boat
Could ever do anything other than float.
But midway across the Atlantic came a voice full of dread
From a desperate lookout who cried “Iceberg! Dead ahead!”
The the ship turned to starboard to avoid the collision
The Fates did not smile but just laughed with derision
And the vessel was ruptured, its hull torn
And started to sink, which the captain did mourn.
To the lifeboats the passengers hurried at speed
But could not all fit in, so some ended up deid.
Including one passenger from the fair town of Dundee
Who could not find a seat and was thus lost at sea.
And many other casualties were the people in steerage.
They would not have been there had they been in Burke’s Peerage
And had the White Star Line sufficient lifeboats provided
All those souls would not have perished when the ship and iceberg collided.
A word of advice — if you have the option, skip the 3D conversion job of James Cameron’s “timeless classic” and see the newly restored A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, scripted by Eric Ambler and directed by Roy Ward Baker, both at the top of their game.
“I’ll see you your Leo DiCaprio, Mr Cameron, and raise you one David McCallum.”