How many feminists change a lightbulb? ONE!

PUBLISHED: 09:42 07 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:02 07 August 2017

Carry On Cleo with Kenneth Williams (l) as the great Roman warrior Julius Caesar. Picture: LIBRARY

Carry On Cleo with Kenneth Williams (l) as the great Roman warrior Julius Caesar. Picture: LIBRARY


The old jokes are the best jokes, they say, but Lynne Mortimer reckons the ancient Greek gags could do with a bit of updating.

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise seen here in 1976 in their dressing room at the Theatre Royal in Norwich. Picture: LIBRARYEric Morecambe and Ernie Wise seen here in 1976 in their dressing room at the Theatre Royal in Norwich. Picture: LIBRARY

This is my dream article.

I have a friend who has been telling vintage gags since I met him in 1982 and, for all I know, for 20 years before that. We tease that he got them from the original cave paintings. He doesn’t deny it.

Modern, stream of consciousness comedy tends not to have proper jokes. For example, Michael McIntyre’s highly physical vacuum cleaning routine, is very funny but not something you can use at dinner parties... not until after the cheese and biscuits, anyway.

There are a number of comics, such as Tim Vine, who go for the word play: “I found a piece of plasticine on my desk at work... I didn’t know what to make of it.”

Tommy Cooper: Tommy Cooper: "I cannot help laughing, really I cannot, I know what's coming next. Picture: Library.

Old jokes and, boy, there are a lot of them have to be heavily culled to excise sexism (“My mother in law... etc” and racism (There was an Englishman, a Scot and and Irishman... they’re usually in a pub) although I rather enjoy Les Dawson’s: “I didn’t speak to my mother-in-law for three years... I hadn’t liked to interrupt her.” As a mother-in-law of two, I can take a joke.

There are forms of jokes considered traditional: “I say, I say, I say,” “Doctor, Doctor,” and, of course, the great canon of “knock knock” jokes.

Tell An Old Joke Day was created, I read: “to bring the awful-smelling noseless dog back in from the cold, and press the button for the chicken stuck forever at the pedestrian crossing. Like any endangered species, old jokes must reproduce if they are not to die out entirely, and the old ones are supposed to be the best, anyway.”

I never did work out why the chicken crossed the road. If it was simply to get to the other side, then it’s not really funny, is it? Not even when you’re seven years old; not even after a boozy night with friends when just about everything makes you laugh.

Mark Williams and Paul Whitehouse were the insinuating salesmen in the Mark Williams and Paul Whitehouse were the insinuating salesmen in the "suits you" sketch in the Fast Show. Picture: LIBRARY

The same range of humour has been making us laugh since time immemorial. A Sumerian joke dating back to 1900BC and feted as the oldest in the world is about breaking wind – a subject that still makes us laugh nearly 4,000 years later.

A Greek anthology from the fourth or fifth century includes the one about the miser who named himself sole beneficiary in his will, and the one about the luckless eunuch who got himself a hernia. Poking fun at others... never fails.

Known as the “Cheeky Chappie” with a folder full of catchphrases, the gaudily clad Max Miller was a darling of the music halls even though his racier jokes didn’t go down too well on the BBC. There were rumours that he was twice banned by the broadcaster, which greatly enhanced his reputation. What was it that might have got him into trouble? Not this, surely:

There was a little girl

Who had a little curl

Right in the middle of her forehead;

And when she was good, she was very, very good,

And when she was bad she was very, very popular.

Nor this:

Adam and Eve in the Garden dwelt,

They were so happy and jolly.

I wonder how they would have felt,

If all the leaves had been holly!

The way comedy is delivered has changed, comedians have changed and the genre is regularly revisited and revamped. The incomparable Morecambe and Wise would often be tucked up in bed together in their stage set flat, Ernie with his Financial Times, and Eric with his Beano. As he

watches a police car, siren wailing, whizz past, Eric comments: “He won’t sell much ice cream going at that speed.”

One comedy sketch show, The Fast Show, was created almost entirely around catchphrases: “Suits you, Sir”; “I was very, very drunk”; “Does my bum look big in this?”

What makes one person laugh, doesn’t necessarily do it for another. As the late Bob Monkhouse observed: “When I told my parents I wanted to be a comedian, they laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now.” But hopefully, there will be something here to raise a giggle.

Knock about:

• Knock knock

Who’s there?


Don’t be silly - opportunity doesn’t knock twice

• Knock knock

Who’s there?


Aardvark who?

Aardvark a million miles for one of your smiles (genuinely ancient)

Medical mirth:

– Doctor, doctor, I keep thinking I’m a pair of curtains

– Pull yourself together

– Doctor, doctor, I keep thinking I’m a dog

– Lie down on the couch and tell me about it

– I’m not allowed on the couch

– Doctor doctor, people keep ignoring me . . .

– Next!

– Doctor, doctor I think I’ve become invisible

– Who said that?

I say:

• I say, I say, I say...

My wife’s gone to the West Indies


No, she went of her own accord

• I say, I say, I say...

My daughter went on a sailing course in Poole

In Dorset?

Yes, she’d recommend it to anyone.

Tommy Cooper

“I said to the gym instructor: “Can you teach me to do the splits?” He said: “How flexible are you?” I said: ‘I can’t make Tuesdays.’”

“A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He sidles up to the bar and says: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

“I backed a horse last week at 10 to one. It came in at quarter past four.”

“Went to the doctors and said: “Have you got anything for wind?” He gave me a kite.”

“I went to Blackpool on holiday and knocked at the first boarding house that I came to. A women stuck her head out of an upstairs window and said ‘What do you want?’.

‘I’d like to stay here’

‘Okay. Stay there’.”

What a Carry On:

• Carry on Cleo: Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar: “Infamy, infamy – they’ve all got it in for me.”

• Carry On Nurse: Joan Hickson as the hospital ward sister: “It’s Matron’s round.”

Bill Owen, as a patient: “Mine’s a pint.”

• Carry on Teacher: Felicity Wheeler: “Are you satisfied with your equipment, Miss Allcock?”

Rosalind Knight: “Well, I’ve had no complaints so far.”fh

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