Laughter Lines

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We British are famous for our sense of humour whether subtle, satirical or self-deprecating. Each edition of Evergreen contains a seasonal dose of laughter with our regular "Rib-Ticklers" series that is guaranteed to get you guffawing or groaning! More comedy memories will be recalled in the forthcoming spring issue, published on 7th March (click here to order a copy), in our "Whatever Happened to...?" feature, which looks back at some of the actors who starred in the brilliant 1980s comedy series "'Allo, 'Allo".

I wonder, though, if you have any idea when the first joke book appeared? Well, it might surprise you to discover that it was way back in Roman times. Yes, the civilisation that gave us our first road network, central heating system, bath-houses and spas also chronicled its wit, wisecracks and wordplay. Entitled, rather poetically, "The Laughter Lover" (or "Philogelos" in Greek) it was written in the 3rd or 4th century AD. It featured 260 jokes ranging from puns to the first "Doctor" joke:

"A doctor was talking to a patient. 'Doctor,' the patient says, 'Whenever I get up after a sleep, I feel dizzy for half an hour, then I'm all right.'
'Then wait for half an hour before getting up,' said the doctor."

Yes, I agree it doesn't make you ache with laughter, but it is remarkable to think that this type of joke - later beloved by Tommy Cooper - goes back so far in history. No wonder that humour is so deeply entrenched in our national character and identity.

Another time-honoured, but simple gag begins with "Knock knock" and it is thought that this has similar historical origins thanks to the Bard. In "Macbeth", after the leading character's famous dagger soliloquy, the drunken Porter hears knocking at the gate and begins his speech, which is far more light-hearted in tone: "Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' the name of Beelzebub?"

However, it wasn't until the 1930s that the Knock Knock joke became popular, but back then it was regarded as more of a parlour or playground game for children. Nowadays, of course, it is a favourite, often groan-inducing, addition to the Christmas cracker!

I have to admit to being rather partial to puns and one of today's comedians who excels at these is Tim Vine. Among his classic material is:

"I saw a bargain the other day, a TV set for £1. Only problem was the volume control was stuck on full. Come on, how can you turn that down?"

"So I took my dog for a walk and it was really angry - well - it's a cross breed!"

"I went to the butchers the other day and the butcher said, 'I bet you £5 you can't guess the weight of that meat on the top shelf.' 'I'm not gambling!' I said, 'The steaks are too high!'"

 Looking ahead, we can promise you more laughter in the summer edition of Evergreen which will, among other things, be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of one of Britain's best-loved comedies of all time, "Dad's Army". Whatever you do, "Don't panic!" as we prepare to salute Captain Mainwaring's plucky platoon of men from the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard.

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