Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, May 31, 2012

See those young aspiring bishops, quite forgotten actresses

Back in the days when the internet was only for US Department of Defense researchers, I was a student. Like most students, my friends and I asked a lot of questions about the important things in life: politics, religion, science, where to score the best cannabis, which Kevin Ayers album was the greatest - that sort of thing. One to which we never found a satisfactory answer was "Who were the original actress and bishop", as in the expression "As the actress said to the bishop"?

Well, in the twenty-first century, when the world-wide web provides us with the functional equivalent of that staple of 1960s futurists, the "computer holding the whole of human knowledge", it occurred to me that this was a question that maybe I could now answer. And it was. I found the answer quite surprising, first of all because in its original form the question has no answer: there are no real-life templates for the bishop and the actress. However, in best Oxford English Dictionary manner, we do know the first occurrence of the phrase, which is much younger than I had imagined.

Nor had I previously known that Americans and Canadians don't use the phrase (not much of a surprise) or that they use "That's what she said" in the same sense.

While that isn't the sense in which the Saw Doctors are using it here, this is a good song. Enjoy.


A word of explanation of the title of this post, which sprang unbidden from my subconscious as I began to write on this topic. In the mid-1970s I was an undergraduate at University College, Durham. As you might expect from a collegiate university, many years of undergraduates (and of undergraduate humour) had led to the composition of various college songs, at least in my college (which was the oldest). I imagine other colleges - or the men's colleges at least - had similar dubious lyrics either extolling the glories of one's own establishment or scurrilously slandering the others. So: approximately eighty yards from my room was another college, St Chad's. Some of its buildings were 18th century, some more recent. (My own college was mainly housed in a Norman castle.) Chad's was originally founded as a seminary for those intending to become clergymen: as a result it retained an aura of High Church Anglicanism. There was also a kind of running gag that it was a hotbed of homosexuality, though I don't think anyone took that too seriously: it was an all male college (of which at the time there were five - now all the colleges are mixed), and its Anglo-Catholic associations joined up the dots, so to speak. (In fairness I should also point out that Chad's was renowned for two other things: the quality of its kitchen (invitations to dine there were highly-prized) and the coolest college ball in the calendar (the Chad's Candlemas Ball, which eclipsed even my own college's Castle June Ball - just).

Anyway, we Castlemen used to sing (on various occasions, especially when rather drunk and passing under the windows of St Chad's) the following lyrics to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy:

St Chad's College architecture may not be fantastical,
But it has a strong tradition that's ecclesiastical.
See those young aspiring bishops, quite forgotten actresses,
Sanctimoniously performing homosexual practices.

(alternatively ".......Anglo-Catholic practices")


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