Monday, August 1, 2011

Bruce Mason’s cricket satire on Viscount Cobham

Another book I picked up at the recent Downtown Community Ministry Book Fair in Wellington is well-known New Zealand playwright Bruce Mason’s book of songs and parodies, We Don’t Want Your Sort Here (1963). Mason (1921-82) is the author of the classic New Zealand play, The End of the Golden Weather. I hadn't come across the book before. His satirical book, his only book of verse, certainly serves as a reminder of the ‘good old, bad old days of Kiwi culture’, however, it’s still a lively read.
One of the satires concerns English cricketer and former Governor-General of New Zealand, Charles Lyttelton (1909-1977), the 10th Viscount Cobham. Cobham played for Worcestershire and MCC and scored over 3,000 First Class runs, including a top score of 162 vs. Leicestershire in 1938. He played cricket between 1932 and 1961. By most accounts he was a popular Governor-General and was friends with the New Zealand cricketers of the period, for instance a number of "the '49ers" like Sutcliffe, Wallace, Donnelly and Reid played for Cobham's Governor-General's XI against MCC, a memorable match of the 1961 season.
If you’re a regular at book fairs in Wellington, you can still spot Lord Cobham’s Speeches (1962). The front cover features Viscount Cobham batting at No. 10 for his Governor-General’s XI and launching a shot down the ground for six at Eden Park, Auckland. Like Merv Wallace, it was Cobham's last First Class match and he made a surprising 44. Cobham in that photo seems to like attacking shots. Well, here’s a quick delivery from Mason which I suspect he might leave. It seems Mason took a note of Cobham’s dislike of abstract art and thought to send up Cobham’s traditional taste a little. It’s a light-hearted piece which does raise salient points about the arrival of modern and modernist art and literature in New Zealand:


An Ordinary Man

CHARACTER: A Governor-General. A few notes on this number,
performed privately, but for obvious reasons, never publicly. In
1958, the author sat two seats away from the Governor-General of
New Zealand, His Excellency the Viscount Cobham, at the opening
of the Auckland Festival. He listened with respect and admiration
to His Excellency’s address, which showed a knowledge of and
sympathy with the visual arts never before, to his knowledge,
evinced and expressed by a Queen’s representative in this country.
His Excellency referred more than once to the duty of modern
artists to recall that their vision must be communicated to and be
above all, intelligible to, the Ordinary Man. He then drew from
his own experience as an ordinary man in being surrounded as a
boy in his Worcestershire home, by the great masters of the past,
an experience, however valuable and nourishing to the spirit, not
generally available, one would have thought, to the ordinary man.
His Excellency returned in the later days of his term of office, to
this theme again and again. He could be heard at Art Exhibitions,
talking of abstract art in a manner which suggested that its area
was not one that the ordinary man need concern himself with, and
he made similar pronouncements upon modern music and literature.
The author devised the following parody as a good-humoured
tease of His Excellency’s attitude, and it is to be thought of as
being performed at the opening of the New Zealand Academy
of Fine Arts Winter Exhibition, or at the formal opening of the
Kelliher Prize landscapes.

AIR: I’m an ordinary man, from My Fair Lady.
I’m an ordinary man,
Who desires nothing more
Than to see your work in paint
Charming landscapes by the score
Freed from any modern taint.
An average man am I
And though I hold vice-regal reins,
In my veins
There is nothing but decorum and restraint.
A very ordinary man.


Abstract in your house,
And your peace of mind is through!
Its parabolas and curves
Will affect your optic nerves
And the colour combinations
Will result in complications

Oh let an abstract in your house
See it gibber on the wall!
You can glare at it or frown
Turn it round or upside down
Try and search for inner meaning
From this chaos overweening:
None at all!

You want to think of Tintoretto
Of a Rubens or Vermeer,
Of Titian, Canaletto,
Where at least the meaning’s clear!

But have an abstract in your house,
And you’ve the judgment of a louse!
There’ll be no vice-regal truck
With this stupefying muck
I would find it just as thrilling
To be trussed and sent for killing
As to ever have an abstract in my house!

I’m a decent sort of man,
Who will find himself in clover
Stalking grouse behind a thicket
Or an off-spin googly over
Bowled upon a sticky wicket.
A simple chap am I
Of very plain and simple joys
Who likes to fish a bit
Dish a bit
Of commonsense towards my girls and boys!
A very decent sort of man.


Abstract in your house
And you declare yourself a clown!
I hate men of talent flimsy
Who display their latest whimsy
And erupting arty jargon
Will declare that it’s a bargain
Upside down!

There’ll be a slosh of deep vermilion
And a mess of purple bars
A nose on the Wellington carillon
And a tuft of tussock grass!

Let an abstract in your house
You might as well divorce your spouse!
I will not be a subscriber
Nor my patronage will bribe a
Single clot, betraying sense
With the heady recompense
Of my benison vice-regal
For an art that’s barely legal!

I will

© Bruce Mason 1962

(Sources: Wikipedia; We Don’t Want Your Sort Here by Bruce Mason (Auckland/Hamilton: Paul’s Book Arcade, 1963); Merv Wallace: A Cricket Master by Joseph Romanos (Joel Publishing, Wellington, 2000); and Lord Cobham’s speeches: a selection from the speeches made by the Rt. Hon. the Viscount Cobham, G.C.M.G., T.D., during his term of office as Governor-General of New Zealand, 1957-1962, edited by O.S. Hintz (Auckland: Wilson and Horton, 1962).

We Don't Want Your Sort Here
by Bruce Mason
(Paul's Book Arcade, 1963)

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