Shut that door and other catchphrases
- Credit: PA
The door that Larry Grayson was referring to when he first said: “Shut that door,” has been found and will be kept as a monument to that immortal line. Here, we celebrate the catchphrase.
Clichés and catchphrases litter our language with varying degrees of elegance.
But this week, it seems, one of the first entries into what may eventually become a museum of catchphrases, is to be preserved for posterity?
What could it be?
The glass and bottle as immortalised by Tommy Cooper: “Bottle, glass; glass bottle.”?
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Sooty’s wand which sparked the phrase “Izzy wizzy let’s get busy.”?
No, it is a much more substantial item - namely the door that inspired Larry Grayson’s catchphrase: “Shut that door.”
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Who knew there was a real door involved?
The Generation Game host, who was one of showbusiness’s biggest names in the 1970s and 1980s, was famed for exclaiming “Shut that door!”
The star of the post-Bruce Forsyth Generation had already developed a number of well-honed catchphrases before he shot to fame. It all goes back to a summer season at a seafront theatre in Redcar, Cleveland.
His act was interrupted when an auditorium door kept flying open in the wind, prompting him to come out with the immortal line.
The venue was later turned into a cinema called the Regent but it has been closed for almost a year after structural faults were found. Amid plans to save it as part of a wider regeneration project, Grayson’s famous door, which had been bricked up, was uncovered.
Regent manager of 26 years Neil Bates said: “The story is, Larry was working under a previous stage name, Billy Breen, in the summer season and the door, which opened directly to the beach, kept flying open.
“He just shouted ‘Shut that door!’ and got a laugh and kept using it.
“It was an in-joke for the Redcar crowd, but it obviously worked elsewhere.”
The door will now be kept in storage and preserved.
Grayson’s friend Joyce Dowding, who is now in her 90s and lives in Redcar, has confirmed the story.
She said: “It must be the right door, because it was the one that opened on the beach.”
She has a photo of Grayson taken in his dressing room at the London Palladium, with him holding a painting of the Regent.
She said: “He was more or the less the same off stage as on. He was just ordinary. He was very considerate of people. He was just Billy.”
Carl Quartermain, Redcar and Cleveland councillor for culture, tourism and communications, said: “This is an amazing find - a real piece of entertainment history.”
Has a piece of catchphrase history ever before gained physical immortality?
What we can say is that the catchphrase has a history that precedes repetition. It may be contested but maybe the earliest on these shores is Julius Caesar’s snappy: “Veni, Vidi, Vici,” allegedly pronounced on the taking of Britain c.66BC (or BCE if you prefer).
“To be or not to be? That is the question,” memorably quoth Shakespeare’s Hamlet among other well-known Hamletisms such as “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio... although this is often misquoted as “I knew him well”.
Shakespeare gave us loads of useful phrases which, if planted into a conversation, can provoke the laughter of recognition - just as today’s comedy, movie, and game show catchphrases do.
“Reader, I married him,” is famously declared by Charlotte Bronte’s fictional heroine, Jane Eyre and many of us know it immediately.
Marie Antoinette has been vilified (some believe unfairly) for allegedly saying: “Let them eat cake,” in response to the French peasants rioting because they had no bread. Yes, she may have said “brioche” rather than cake but did the Victorians (the quote was attributed to the French queen in the mid 19th century) know about brioche? I don’t think so.
The we have Queen Victoria herself saying: “We are not amused.” It has become a classic for both the use of the royal “we” and the perceived sense-of-humour by-pass it conveys.
Although we have absorbed these phrases into the language and use them frequently, they were not repeated ad nauseam. Catchphrases as we know them today are flogged again and again until they become a part of our consciousness - irrespective of their literary, emotional or ironic value.
The Fast Show, for example, thrived on catchphrases and many of them spark instant recognition and amusement. “Does my bum look big in this?” is a great one for the occasions when you exit a department store’s changing rooms in a new outfit.
“Scorchio,” is the one probably most used when, having flown out from chilly Stansted to Spain, you leave the plane to a blast of heat, causing everyone to take off their coats and pullovers.
Another one for specific usage is: “I’ll get me coat.” This is when you say something that falls into the dustbowl of conversation - for example, having supper with Liberal Democrat friends and announcing: “Actually, I voted leave,” - a situation best defused with: “I’ll get me coat.”
It is splendid that the very door that created Larry Grayson’s best-known saying should be preserved. I like to think it will be the first exhibit you see as you enter the Museum of the Catchphrase.