Stanley Unwin
[ Issue 35 ]

Emily Bronto is definitely one of Stanley Unwin’s many fans

Bikwil honours Stanley Unwin

Stanley Unwin

Harlish Goop reckons that if ever anyone warrants a mention in a Bandersnatch context it would have to be the astounding Mr. Stanley Unwin.

Soon Unwin was entertaining his colleagues with his comical way of talking. Eventually he came to the attention of comedian Tommy Handley’s scriptwriters, and was persuaded to do a bit of humorous broadcasting.

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A Word in Your Pink Shell-like — Harlish Goop


It’s been quite a while since I last wrote about Bandersnatch.

[For the benefit of newcomer readers: Bandersnatch is the Bikwil “language of the mind” that we concocted as an echo of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky poem. Previous pieces on Bandersnatch and related topics have appeared in this column in Issue 3 (1997 September), Issue 11 (1999 January), Issue 16 (1999 November) and Issue 23 (2001 January).]

So what’s today’s offering?

Well, this month marks the first anniversary of the death of funny-man Stanley Unwin (1911-2002).

Now, regarding his relevance to Bandersnatch, believe me, if ever anyone deserved to be mentioned in a Bandersnatch context it would have to be the breathtaking Mr. Stanley Unwin — or as he preferred to be known, Professor Unwin (not to be confused with Sir Stanley Unwin, the early 20th century publisher).

The name not ring a bell? Maybe his words will, or at least his style of words. Here is the beginning of his version of Goldilocks:

Once apollytito and Goldiloppers set out in the deep dark of the forry. She was carry a basket with buttere-flabe and cheesy flavour.

Or perhaps this other opening paragraph, from his Pidey Pipeload of Hamling will stir a memory:

Once in a long far awow, in the Germanic land, there was a great city with Grubbelsberg or something like that, with an Obermeister-Bergelmasty who was in charge. Now there they had a surfeit or rat-suffery, where all they used to creep and out and gnaw sniff and gribble into the early mord (and the late evage) there, biting the bits of the table, also the tea-clothers; and when people were asleep in their beds, so these rats would gnaw into the sheebs and also the whiskers of those who was dangly hoaver.

The amazing thing was that, as well as writing it, Unwin could speak this sort of thing without script or rehearsal. Apparently he got the idea when a small boy, when one day his mother returned home injured and told him that she had just “falolloped over” in the street (= fallen + flopped) and “grozed” her knee.

After a varied series of jobs (including one as a “seasick merchant seaman”), in the 1940s — radio’s Golden Age — he took a position at the BBC. What he was employed as isn’t clear, since some speak of him as a “reporter”, others as a “sound engineer”. Either way, by now he had discovered Edward Lear’s verse and had developed a unique nonsense language for telling bedtime stories to his children.

Soon Unwin was entertaining his colleagues with his comical way of talking. Eventually he came to the attention of comedian Tommy Handley’s scriptwriters, and was persuaded to do a bit of humorous broadcasting. He made his professional debut in 1949 with a parody of a sports commentary for BBC Midlands. Later he migrated to The Children’s Hour as Uncle Stan and began doing spot acts on various radio programmes and variety shows, as well as being invited to be guest speaker at public dinner functions.

Along with Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Barbara Windsor, Unwin was one of the voices in the animatronic TV series The Great Bong. He appeared briefly in many comedy films, including Carry On Regardless (1961) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). A TV show of his own — Unwin Time — followed. He wrote a number of books, and made several records (including the psychedelic Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake with The Small Faces), and was still doing radio work and conference entertainment into his 80s.

The language Unwin perfected became known as Unwinese, though other labels for it have also sprung up, such as “poetic gobbledygook” or “plausible malapropisms”. Some people have heard in it echoes of Pig Latin (anleystay unwinway?). For my money the most flattering description is “it might almost have come from the pages of Finnegans Wake” (Edward Lear Home Page).

As well as Spike Milligan, Unwin’s devoted fans included Peter Cook, the Monty Python cast and John Lennon. The latter’s books John Lennon in His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works were obviously — and, I understand, avowedly — inspired by Unwinese, as in this example:

Puffing and globbering they drugged theyselves rampling or dancing with wild abdomen, stubbing in wild postumes amongst themselves . . .

Jazz aficionados among our readership will be delighted to learn that Unwin was a great music lover. (How could he not’ve been, him with his humour based primarily on the sounds of words?) Very knowledgeable about music, too, he was. Here is a brief excerpt from a piece on jazz he prepared at the age of 85 for Ronnie Scott’s magazine (Issue No. 100, July-August 1996). The full text is well worth a read if you have Internet access.

When Jazz (how or what) came, is the dizziest of a fundamole. Not mark you of a Gillespeed fundamole, O no. There were no recorms vailabold ‘til 1917; these by white perslode, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Maybe otherwise jazz handy down by fardles’n mothers ‘til the first recorms in 1923 in a railside studio ramshackload by a black onsombly; Oliver’s, 1923, with his Creole Jazz Band, which inclubed Louis Armstrong who strode with first fine second trumpy-blow. There’s a start of a historical impaggers indeedy-ho!

Cleverly funny it continues, interspersed with such witty linguistic contortions as

Joe Venuti (catgut’n violin scrapey-joy, y’know) and Eddie Lang’s guitar pluck’fretfolded;
Count Basics and Jimmy Luncefolder;
the Swing era of Belly Goodmold, Dorsey’n Dorsey and Krupa drumset’n symbold;
[on bebop] Sollagommorra t’you lot and devil takers hindemyth.

Before I say “goodlee byelode”, I should alert you to the vital news that that a belated Paglet 5 of Larick and the Aratronts (written in Bandersnatch, of course) is to be found later in this issue.

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