Mr. Something Old, Nothing New, a/k/a Jaime J. Weinman, has found and posted a link to a YouTube clip of Little Miss Britten, Dudley Moore’s knowing spoof of a Benjamin Britten folksong arrangement as sung by Peter Pears. (It was part of Beyond the Fringe, the now-legendary 1960 revue written and performed by Moore, Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, and Jonathan Miller.) Jaime correctly describes it as “the greatest classical-music parody of all time.” I sent it to an opera coach who plays a lot of Britten, and she promptly wrote back, “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever, ever seen.” I might add that she loves Britten’s music. So do I–and so did Moore, who claimed that he wrote “Little Miss Britten” “out of absolute love and admiration for Britten and with no malice aforethought at all.” Alas, it won’t make any sense unless you know the original, but if you do, you’ll laugh so hard as to run the risk of self-injury.
I love parody and wish in vain that I had a gift for it. As I wrote a couple of years ago, I believe it to be “one of the most powerful and illuminating forms of criticism.” Fortunately, the complete text of the greatest of all literary parodies, Max Beerbohm’s A Christmas Garland, is now available online via Project Gutenberg, and I commend it to your attention.
The best-known of the Christmas Garland parodies is “The Mote in the Middle Distance,” Beerbohm’s lethally exact sendup of H*nry J*m*s’ late style:
It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left it.
It’s splendidly wicked, but I confess to preferring “P.C., X, 36,” in which R*d**rd K*pl*ng gets his:
I had spent Christmas Eve at the Club, listening to a grand pow-wow between certain of the choicer sons of Adam. Then Slushby had cut in. Slushby is one who writes to newspapers and is theirs obediently “HUMANITARIAN.” When Slushby cuts in, men remember they have to be up early next morning.
For those of you who weren’t reading “About Last Night” back in 2004, here is Hugh Kingsmill’s parody of A.E. Housman, which is equally good–and equally cruel.
(For more about Beyond the Fringe, go here.)