Morton, J B

Tagged: Author

(1893-1979) UK author primarily known for his work as by Beachcomber, a House Name created by a London Daily Express editor for the newspaper's By the Way column. The column title and byline had been used earlier for society gossip 1917-1919 and for humour by D B Wyndham Lewis 1919-1924; Morton took the name over in 1924, and was its sole proprietor for more than half a century, until he was forcibly retired in 1975. His defining version of this column – which still appears in different form, written by others – featured whimsies, Parodies (including much joke Advertising of a universal panacea called Snibbo) and long, serialized, fantastical spoof narratives – some technically fantasy or even sf – whose protagonists were themselves hyperbolic comic types. The most famous of these include Mr Justice Cocklecarrot, who presides over ludicrous court cases frequently involving twelve red-bearded dwarfs; the scrounging rogue Captain Foulenough; Prodnose, a querulous Reasonable Man who perpetually criticizes the Beachcomber persona's excesses; Dr Smart-Allick, crooked headmaster of Narkover school; Dr Strabismus (Whom God Preserve) of Utrecht, a gentle Mad Scientist specializing in ludicrous Inventions; the incompetent civil servant Charlie Suet; and the Pooter-like Mr Thake. Cocklecarrot in particular has outlived his creator and still appears regularly in Private Eye magazine's topical Satires of the UK legal system. The World of Beachcomber, a BBC Television adaptation fronted by Spike Milligan in the role of Dr Strabismus and interrupted by cod ads for Snibbo and other products, ran for 19 episodes in 1968-1969; sadly, the BBC wiped the entire series, though much of the audio has survived.

The By the Way column appeared daily until it went weekly in 1965; only a fraction of this body of work is reprinted in the twenty-one Beachcomber collections beginning with Mr Thake (coll 1929) and ending with Beachcomber: The Works of J.B. Morton (coll 1974; vt The Bumper Beachcomber 1991) edited by Richard Ingrams. A posthumous title, Cram Me With Eels: The Best of Beachcomber's Unpublished Humour (coll 1994) edited by Mike Barfield, assembles further, previously uncollected, Beachcomber material from 1958-1975 columns. Mostly in his work as Beachcomber, Morton had a profound though not fully recognized impact on British humour, despite the misogyny he increasingly expressed, and a persistent vein of Anti-Intellectualism. His influence is clear on such writers as Michael Frayn and William Rushton; on actor/writer Spike Milligan [see above]; on the array of creative figures (including Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle) involved in Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-1974) and subsequent Python enterprises; on the earlier Discworld comedies of Terry Pratchett. His influence, so pervasive it now seems communal, surfaces in the work of a more recent author like Rhys Hughes.

Morton's fiction under his own name includes Drink Up, Gentlemen (1930), a Satire on English mores set in a slightly though garishly modified Near Future, composed in the rancorously anti-"progress" anti-Modernist fashion of his mentor Hilaire Belloc, a linkage he honoured in his Hilaire Belloc: A Memoir (1955). The plot and venue, though not the invariable outrage, are specifically reminiscent of G K Chesterton's The Flying Inn (1914). 1933 and Still Going Wrong! (coll 1932 chap) assembles verse satires about the very Near Future; The Death of the Dragon: New Fairy Tales (coll 1934) assembles fantasies; the borderline Skylighters (1934) mocks a new Religion. [JC/DRL]

John Cameron Andrieu Bingham Michael Morton

born London: 7 June 1893

died Worthing, West Sussex: 10 May 1979




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