The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - October 17, 2013

WISE WORDS The Queen wrote to US President Dwight Eisenhower to give him the recipe for drop scones
WISE WORDS The Queen wrote to US President Dwight Eisenhower to give him the recipe for drop scones
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I implore you to look at a website called Letters of Note.

Featured in the Observer newspaper at the weekend, it is the brainchild of a fella called Shaun Usher and is one of those beautifully simple ideas – to collect letters from the past, sent by and to notable folk.

There are some absolute crackers, including a note by the BBC’s Comedy Editor after reading a script of a new project by John Cleese (“Re: Fawlty Towers. I thought this as dire as its title” – thankfully he was ignored and the show commissioned) and a telegram from Marlon Brando to Michael Jackson on the night the singer began a 55-date tour of the US (“Please try not to make an ass of yourself and please for god’s sake don’t fall in the orchestra pit”).

There’s a letter from Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor after she dumped him (“I can barely believe it since I am so unaccustomed to anybody leaving me. But reflectively I wonder why nobody did so before ... I am a smashing bore and why you’ve stuck by me so long is an indication of your loyalty. I shall miss you with passion and wild regret”) and the Queen to US President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, giving him, rather bizarrely, the recipe for her drop scones.

“I think the mixture needs a great deal of beating while making,” she wrote to the most powerful man in the world, “and shouldn’t stand about too long before cooking” (an idea for a new television cooking show perhaps? Saturday Morning Kitchen with HRH Elizabeth II; Prince Andrew could be her sous-chef, it would give a point to his existence).

But the best letter of all is well worth reprinting in full here for I think it is glorious.

It was sent by a New York copywriter called Robert Pirosh, who quit a well-paid job and headed to Hollywood in 1934, determined to become a screenwriter.

Now when I applied for a job at the Blackpool Gazette many moons ago, my application read something along the lines of: “Dear Sir/Madam. I have A Levels in English Language and Media Studies, and used to work part-time in the butcher’s department at my local supermarket, which shows I can fit into a team environment.”.

Mr Pirosh, on the other hand, sent the following to as many directors, producers and studio bosses as he could find in order to try and secure a job.

“I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory, I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde.

I like suave ‘V’ words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl.

I like Oh-Heavens, my gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge, I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh.”

The letter secured him three interviews, one of which led to a job with MGM. Fifteen years later Pirosh won an Oscar for best original screenplay from the war film Battleground.

Stories don’t get better than that.

Measure of a real man

I have hit upon a way to change Britain’s binge-drinking culture – introduce a new half-pint glass.

I sense your scepticism but bear with me here.

On my recent sojourn to France I noted with some surprise that the majority of men, both young and old, were drinking half-pints rather than pints of beer.

Now over here if a man walks to the bar and asks for half a lager it is considered about as cool as booking tickets to see Chris De Burgh, then hanging round the dressing room door afterwards to have your picture taken with him.

People don’t do it.

Yet in France it is perfectly normal (drinking halves that is, not having your picture taken with Chris De Burgh), there is no stigma attached to it, and I’ve realised why: it’s the glass it is served in.

The English half pint glass is functional but incredibly dull and unfashionable, the kind of thing that might be used as a container to hold your toothbrush or store your biro pens.

The glasses in France, by comparison, are sleek, exciting, daring and super sexy. They are a lovely voluptuous shape, a pleasure to hold, and as a result you want to order a half pint more than you do an actual pint. Because you’re ordering halves of course, you tend to drink more slowly and consume less alcohol throughout an evening.

I have composed a short letter which I’ve sent to David Cameron, modestly titled ‘How I’ve Single-Handedly Managed To Solve Britain’s Binge Drinking Problem’.

I will be disappointed if my measures aren’t adopted by late next year and expect a knighthood by 2018.