The world wide web is 25 years old and, wouldn’t you know it, the anniversary has unleashed torrents of analysis all over…the world wide web. At the risk of being accused of biting the bytes that feed me, so to speak, I too want to chuck my specious opinions into the cyber-sink. Wait reader! Don’t click that ‘close’ icon yet! I know it’s all deadly dull, and I know you’re a busy person, and I know you’ve got the attention span of a mayfly, and I know you just want to look at clips of pythons eating crocodiles, and I know I’m an irritating writer prone to slab paragraphs, convoluted lists, chronic multisyllablationism (!), marooned subordinate clauses and never-ending sentences that forget where they started and where they’re going and peter out into an abject adjectival alliterative alphabet soup….but bear with me: I’m going to make this one funny…
My first thought is this: just imagine if the late Roy Jenkins, the late Edward Woodward and Barbara Walters (Googled her, she’s still going), were guests on the Jonathan Ross chat show and the conversation got around to a re-make of The Grapes of Wrath.
Secondly, a joke. It’s going to be fairly long, but has to be – because its real purpose is to get in a few more rare proper nouns so that when they’re Googled in future dicmortimer.com is on that vital first page. For me, this is a win-win-win situation: it actually will generate more hits, I get to tell a really filthy joke (that should keep you reading), and whatever pseudo-profound point I make about the astonishingly rapid changes ushered in by the internet will suffice to bring this particular piece to an end and rack up another notch on me blogging bedpost.
To fully appreciate the joke, you must possess some slight awareness of the long-gone BBC radio game show Twenty Questions, which aired between 1947 and 1976. A panel of four ‘celebrities’ have to identify a mystery object by asking a maximum of 20 questions which the chairman can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A ‘mystery voice’ tells listeners at home and the studio audience what the object is, but the panel is only told whether the object is ‘animal, vegetable or mineral’. It was all very jolly and saturated in archetypal Beeb tweeness, while everybody spoke with the impossibly posh strangled vowels one only hears nowadays from the Queen. For many years the chairman was smooth Canadian Stewart MacPherson (1908-1995), and for this joke I also disinter those mainstays of countless BBC parlour-games: colourful rogue Tory Lord ‘Bob’ Boothby (1900-1986) and urbanely witty minor aristocrat Lady Isobel Barnett (1918-1980).
We join the programme half way through…
Stewart MacPherson: Right, now on to our next object. Here, for our studio audience and listeners at home only, is the Mystery Voice.
Mystery Voice (low and whispering): The complete works of Shakespeare. The complete works of Shakespeare.
SM: Lord Boothby, it’s your turn. I can tell you that the mystery object is vegetable and also animal.
Lord Boothby (slurring slightly): Is the object sold?
LB: Is it a manufactured object? (ripple of applause from studio audience)
LB: Can you eat it?
LB: Can you drink it? (audience giggles)
SM: Well you might try Lord Boothby…(milks a laugh)…but no.
LB: Would you find it in this country?
SM: Oh yes.
LB (takes sip from his glass of ‘water’): Uh, would you find it only in Britain?
SM: No. That’s six questions.
LB (getting ratty): I can count Mr MacPherson. Alright then, change tack, would you find this object in the home? (some applause)
LB: Ah…so this man-made object is a domestic appliance?
LB: Furniture? It’s not a blasted Queen Anne Chair, is it? (ripple of laughter)
SM: Oh no.
LB: Is it ornamental?
SM: No. Ten questions left.
LB (takes another slug): Well, if it isn’t ornamental…hmm…must have a practical purpose…let me see…of course, the garden…um…would you find it outdoors?
SM: No, well let me elaborate slightly: not usually.
LB: So it’s portable?
SM (chuckles): Well, yes – perhaps with some difficulty (audience titters).
LB: Is it a work of art? (audience applauds)
SM: I should say so, oh yes.
LB: A painting?
LB: A musical instrument?
SM: No. You have five questions remaining Lord Boothby.
LB: A book? (audience erupts)
LB (warming to the task): So, the author must be the ‘animal’ here…the physical book is of course the ‘vegetable’…is the writer English? (more applause)
LB: Shakespeare? (audience cheers)
LB: The Complete Works of Shakespeare? (thunderous applause)
SM: Yes! Congratulations Lord Boothby, you guessed the mystery object in 19 questions. Now, onto our next object. Here, for our studio audience and listeners at home only, is the Mystery Voice again.
MV: A double-ended dildo. A double-ended dildo.
SM: Lady Isobel Barnett, it’s your turn. The object is vegetable and mineral.
Isobel Barnett: Can you use it in the house?
IB: A double-ended dildo.
And thirdly, since few read anymore thanks to the www, and since every keystroke we make is relayed straight to GCHQ and the Pentagon, and since 99.9% recurring of internet traffic is people notifying the world when they fart, and since you cheated and peeked at the last line of my joke without reading the essential long build-up, I conclude that internet is an anagram of enter nit.
Picture: Tiffany Corlis