Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Passed for Porn

My perusals of Modern Literature have led me to a book of short stories by George MacDonald Fraser (he of Flashman fame) called McAuslan in the Rough. These are semi-autobiographical stories of Frasier's time in the Highland Regiment in the Middle East just after the end of World War II, centered on a spectacularly incompetent subordinate of the narrator's, a lump of gristle and pocket-lint named Private McAuslan. The stories are very funny and well worth seeking out.

In the story "General Knowledge, Private Information," the regimental brass take it into their heads that a homemade quiz show would be just the thing to boost morale and entertain extremely bored troops stuck in the desert. The topic of subject-matter for such a quiz comes up, and the Colonel speaks:
"So just keep your digestions regular, no late hours, and perhaps brush up with...well, with some of those general knowledge questions in the Sunday Post. I don't doubt the education officer will draw heavily on those. Anyway, they'll get you into the feel of the thing. Apart from that — any suggestions?"
The Adjutant said he had a copy of Whitaker's Almanac in the office, if that was any use.
"Excellent," said the Colonel. "That's the sort of practical approach we need. Very good, Michael. No doubt there's some valuable stuff in the battalion library, too." (I knew of nothing, personally, unless one hoped to study social criminology through the medium of No Orchids for Miss Blandish or Slay-Ride for Cutie.)
This last title caused my spine to stiffen and my pupils to dilate, much as if a house-cat had detected a whiff of mouse in the air. I may even have switched my tail a few times, I don't know. What is this Slay-Ride for Cutie thing? That sounds far too familiar to be left alone....

We have, of course, a current rock band named Death-Cab for Cutie, which us Beatle cognoscienti know to be named for a song performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in "Magical Mystery Tour." As far as we think we know, the phrase was just psychedelic nonsense dreamed up by Neil Innes or Viv Stanshall. But now...this...this thing! Hold on a minute!


It turns out this Hank Janson bird, whose books seem to have commanded one shilling and sixpence in the 50's in Britain (and a bargain at twice the price, if you ask me), was a sort of Mickey Spillane manqué, author of hundreds of these penny dreadfuls. There was, of course, no one person named Hank Janson; instead, there was a stable of extremely poorly paid hacks pooching this stuff out by the barrelful. One imagines these books weren't exactly freely available at your usual respectable lending library, and it's equally easy to picture them as, er, food for the intellect at a remote military outpost circa 1951.

To the young Beatles and Bonzos, of course, this is what passed for porn.

Here is the Magical Mystery Tour  scene in which "Death Cab for Cutie" appears. Watching it now, with knowledge of the origins of "Slay-Ride," doesn't it aaaaaaall just come together? (Shoot me!)



And with that, I'm taking Cutie upstairs for some enlivening conversation and perhaps a touch of slap and tickle...

1 comment:

Ronzoni said...

Loved GMF & I have a shelf fulla his stuff.

I started collecting the Flashman seried when the PBs were published in the UK (Pan Books)and I had friends there who would send them as soon as they hit the bookstores.

His "The Steel Bonnets" explains a lot of what's in Joe Badgeant's stuff. A la "Pyrates" I just learned about "The Reavers." $2.98 at Abe Books (free [FREE!, I say] shipping).