Archive for The Great McGonagall

The Great Edinburgh Trams Disaster

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2013 by dcairns


WC Fields as “The Great McGonigle” in THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY.

I like trams. I like riding on them, and seeing them in movies. I was a little perplexed when Edinburgh decided to get a tram system of its own, since we already have a very good bus service. Advertisements for the imminent new transport system couldn’t quite explain what it was going to bring to the table. Maybe it would be more environmentally friendly? Unfortunately, the unexpected amount of time the project has taken to be completed means it’ll be all but impossible to offset the carbon footprint of five years worth of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction. And nothing can offset the damage done to businesses by closed roads, and to quality of life by all the roadworks.

I attended Marvelous Mary’s annual William McGonagall Dinner, in celebration of the world’s worst poet (a Scotsman, naturally), and was asked to write something about the trams, on the grounds that McGonagall always liked to get his teeth into a good rail disaster. So I did. If you survive to the end, the last word will give you a free lesson in Scottish slang, which may come in useful someday, who knows?


(after William McGonagall)

Though the people of Edinburgh had their qualms

It was decided that they should ride about in tralms

Which would convey them about the town

With half going up and the rest of them going down

From the airport to the town beneath

All the way down to the Port of Leith

So the roadworks began and ripped up the roads

While the people were disturbed by the sound of drilling outside their abodes

And this went on for years and years

But still, the people said, “No tram appears!”

Just perpetual inconvenience and obstruction

Caused by all the digging and construction

Accompanied by runaway expense

That made the costs become truly immense

So that finally, to save some loot

The council decided to shorten the route

So it led from the airport to the centre of town

Which left those in Leith feeling rather let down

But no inquiry could place the blame

For what became known as Edinburgh’s Shame

And still there is no sign of trams

Because Edinburgh Town Council are a load of bams.


Bams = idiots

Praise the Titanic

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by dcairns

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 —


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.”

McGonagall Dies Again

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 14, 2008 by dcairns

Free-standing footnote — THE GREAT MCGONAGALL (above and below) is also the only film to contain its own lunch break, at no extra charge. As a particularly befuddled comedy scene rages, star Spike Milligan becomes briefly disorientated, and turns to his director for advice. Joe McGrath, at the helm, offers Spike zero help, but tries to press on. Clapperboards are clapped. Spike’s pleas to have another crack at the scene from the start, because “It all feels over the top,” go unheeded. On the next take, co-star defiantly Victor Spinetti hams it up even more. A take completed, McGrath calls for lunch.

Music plays, and we watch the cast eat.

Then, back to the scene!

I like generosity in a film-maker, and I find it in most of my favourites, but few of the great directors actually treat their whole audience to lunch. In this, McGrath stands alone.

With the pleasure, always a little malaise — one feels sorry for Spike, whose objections are steamrollered over by a director apparently concerned only with completing the day’s schedule. It’s a good clip for directors-in-training to look at: most actors won’t be as blatant as this in asking for a retake, but when they’re unhappy with their work, it shows, and it’s usually worth paying attention.