Tuesday, 20 November 2007

7 - Alan Bennett

in “On the Margin”, 9 November 1966
Alan Bennett as “Antique shop proprietor”
John Sergeant as “Customer”

SERGEANT: Well, actually, I was looking for something rather along the lines of a teapot stand. It's a birthday present for my wife. I bought her a teapot for her Christmas present, so I thought I'd follow it up with a teapot stand.
BENNETT: Oo! The last of the big spenders. Teapot stand. . .Well . . . (moves to Welsh dresser) you could stand a teapot on here very nicely.
SERGEANT: Yes - but it's a little bit bigger than what I had in mind, really.
BENNETT: Oo! It is big. . . it is big. . . but only an expert would have spotted it. But you know, if you'd be advised, you can't go wrong with these, you know (still fingering Welsh dresser) because these are going to rocket. The Americans are buying them up, you know. If you had six or seven of these tucked away, you'd never starve. I mean, you wouldn't have room to eat, but you'd never starve.
SERGEANT: How much do they run to?
BENNETT: Well, I'll have to look in my little book. I wouldn't want it to go to anybody who wasn't going to cosset it - but I think you're a cosseter, aren't you? Now then - it's seventy-five pounds, but I could stretch it and let you have it for seventy-four guineas.
SERGEANT: I prefer to pay less, really.
BENNETT: Do you know, it's funny you should say that, love, because most people prefer to pay less, whereas I prefer to charge more, you know. I think it's just a matter of taste.
SERGEANT: This is nice. (Touching a table)
BENNETT: Oh, I can see I'm going to have to watch you - you really have the eye, don't you? Can you keep a secret?
BENNETT (taps table): Wedgwood.
SERGEANT: But I thought that Wedgwood only did pottery?
BENNETT: That's the secret. It's a very unique piece. There's only one other in existence, and it's on trust for the nation. It's fifty-five pounds, and if you pass that up, you want your bottom smacking.
SERGEANT (pointing at old money box): That's not an antique. They had these when I was a boy.
BENNETT: Oo, you said it, dear, not me. (Picks up chamber pot filled with hyacinths) Have you ever thought of going in for these? I like to think that this is Worcester.
SERGEANT: What is it?
BENNETT: Well, it's an eighteenth-century breakfast cup, is that. I mean, in the eighteenth century they used to have these great big breakfasts - I mean, none of your two prunes and a Weetabix - so they had such big cups. (Picks up an old policeman's truncheon) Do you know what they're using these for nowadays?
SERGEANT: Well I know one thing - it's not teapot stands.
BENNETT: Oo, get in the knife box, you're too sharp to live.
SERGEANT: I was reading in one of the Sunday newspapers that the latest trend is this 'camp' thing. Have you anything 'camp'?
BENNETT: Now he tells us!
SERGEANT: Have you any camp teapot stands?
BENNETT: Do you know, if you'd come in here a week ago, I was knee deep in camp teapot stands. I've had teapot stands in this shop as camp as a row of pink tents.
BENNETT: I tell a lie - as camp as a row of pink frilly tents.

This is a bit different, since Bennett is an actual gay man writing and performing the role of a camp gay man. Although I don’t think Bennett came out as such until the ’90s. This character was revisited in further sketches in Alan Bennett’s only TV comedy series “On the Margin”. Apparently no footage of any of them now exists since the entire series was wiped by the BBC. In later years Alan Bennett would dust off some of his old sketches for performances in charity shows. Whether this was one of them I don’t know. Although in a parody of the Secret Policeman’s Ball from “Janet Lives with Mel and Griff” (1988) the line “Alan Bennett revisits his uncanny impression of a Northern Woofter” may either refer to these sketches or else be a less than charitable comment on Bennett himself.

John Sergeant is indeed the John Sergeant who went on to a long career as a BBC political correspondent.

This sketch predates the Monty Python's camp judges use of “Get back in the witness box. You’re too sharp to live”. Was it a common phrase, or just the Pythons remembering its previous use and recasting it? Also, is this the first appearance of the phrase “camp as a row of tents”?

And for those unfamiliar with the prices: 20 shillings made 1 pound; 1 guinea was 1 pound and 1 shilling. So, 74 guineas is £77 and 14 shillings. See how worthless this information is.

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