Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Greetings from vulgar Britain

"Greetings from vulgar Britain: Offensive and obscene cards shame our country"
Shouts the Daily Mail headline..!

"When ALLISON PEARSON went to buy a birthday card for her mum, she was horrified by what she found - cards so offensive and obscene she felt ashamed of her country. And the sorry truth is, most are bought by women.

Female Traffic Warden: 'Anything you say will be taken down!' Male motorist: 'Knickers!' Yes, I know it's a gag so ancient it makes Bob Monkhouse look cutting edge. But sometimes, the old ones are the best, aren't they? Certainly when it comes to greetings card jokes.

The saucy card has long enjoyed an affectionate place in the British imagination - and rightly so.

For a people who were keen on sex, but just weren't very good at talking about it, they offered a welcome outlet for a snigger and a giggle.

Cartoons of hen-pecked husbands . . . doctors and nurses with wandering stethoscopes . . . waiters in trousers so tight you could see their religion . . . barmaids with a cleavage that Evel Knievel would have struggled to jump across on his motorbike. . . they've all brought a cheeky smile to the face of many a birthday recipient

Captions like 'I've got to get Mrs Gimlet to Oldham and then I'm going to Bangor as fast as I can' only added to the fun.

Embarrassment was the repressed Englishman's strongest emotion. Innuendo made a virtue of that fact. Double meanings gave you a good laugh without being too aggressively crude.

Innuendo also made Brits the world champs at wordplay. Greetings cards with saucy double entendres sold in their millions.

It was an essentially innocent approach epitomised by the late, great Donald McGill's incomparable illustrations of wobbling female flesh and pink- cheeked peeping Toms that so captivated generations of seaside holidaymakers.

Cards like his were a naughty-but-nice part of British humour. In my naivety, I thought that was still the case.

Then, the other day, I popped into my local branch of Scribblers with the kids to buy my mum a birthday card. Naturally, I assumed that in a greetings card chain with branches all over Britain's High Streets, the merchandise would be suitable for family viewing. Big mistake.

'What does OFF YOUR T*** mean, Mum?' bellowed the eight-year-old, holding up one card. I grabbed it off him and was putting it back when I did a double-take. The other cards in the rack made that first one look as pure as a snowy Nativity scene.

'Happy birthday to the office slut' ran the caption over a picture of a girl sitting on a desk in just a bra and skirt.

A photo from the Fifties of an elegant, Princess Margaret type bore the charming greeting: 'FYI: You're a cheap good for nothing rancid old slag.' So Dorothy Parker can rest on her witty laurels. Not much of a double meaning there, eh"

Story continues...

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