Punch, June 10, 1903


[“Been to Epsom?”—“Yes.”

“Saw the Oaks?”—“Yes.”

“I thought you looked like it. Very hot, was it not? You met with a lot of friends; they wanted to treat you, and you them? The result was that you got very drunk? Well, I hope you backed Our Lassie!”

Such was the dialogue between Mr. Fordham, the North London magistrate, and a prisoner charged with drunkenness.

The offender was fined 5s.—Evening Paper.]

Mr. Punch, Sir,—The above conversation affords an excellent example of a practice which I should like to see become more common in our police-courts. I hold that a magistrate is too often unnecessarily brusque in his dealings with prisoners. Why should not proceedings be conducted with a minimum of unpleasantness, as in the case quoted? A visit to a police-court would then become a pleasure, and the prisoner would go away feeling that he had not wasted his morning. I venture to append a few specimen cases from my forthcoming brochure: “Affability on the Bench.”

Case One.

(Prisoner charged with being drunk and disorderly)

Magistrate. Hullo, old chap, sorry to see you here.

Prisoner (gracefully). Not at all. Always a pleasure to meet you anywhere.

M. Thanks. Bit rocky last night, weren’t you? What?

P. A trifle. Dinner of sorts on at the Club.

M. Quite so. Have a good time?

P. Splendid, thanks. Passable champagne, very.

M. Ah. Prefer hock myself. Well, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. I suppose you were drunk?

P. Very.

M. And you did kick the policeman in the stomach?

P. (with pride). Rather. Jolly hard, too.         [Chuckles.

M. (also chuckling). Wish I’d been there. Well, look here, you know, this sort of thing is all very well, don’t you see, but, hang it, old man, don’t you know, and so on. What?

P. Oh, I see your point.

M. (relieved). I knew you would be sensible about it. If you’ve got such a thing as half-a-crown on you, you might hand it over, will you? Thanks. So long.

P. (as he leaves the dock). Teuf-teuf.

Case Two.

(Prisoner charged with using profane language.)

Prisoner. I say.

Magistrate. Hullo?

P. You couldn’t hurry up this case, I suppose? I want to get back to Lord’s.

M. Oh, yes, that was where you were arrested, wasn’t it? Middlesex and Somerset, isn’t it? Rather a good match. I see Sammy Woods batted well.

P. ’Myes. Don’t like that uppish stroke of his, though, over the bowler’s head. What I say is, that that length ball of Trott’s ought to be kept on the carpet all the way. Don’t you think so?

M. No, there I don’t agree with you. It’s a perfectly safe stroke if you lay on the wood hard enough, and Sammy always does.

P. (making a concession). Well, perhaps you’re right. (Looks at his watch) I say, do you know what time it is? They’ll be starting in another quarter of an hour.

M. Why, so they will. We must hurry. What’s the charge? Profane language? Any defence? I needn’t ask you to keep it short.

P. (warmly). Defence! Well, rather. Why, the man at the other end ran Braund out when he only wanted four to complete his century. And I’m a Somerset man! What else could I do but say what I thought about it? What would you have done in my place?

M. (hastily). Discharged, discharged. The Court will now adjourn. (To Prisoner) Wait for me in the street, will you, with a cab? I want to see the finish of that match. Shan’t be two minutes.         [Scene closes.


I could give you other specimens, but these will, I think, sufficiently indicate the attitude of mind I recommend to our magistrates.

Yours, &c.,        
Henry William-Jones.




Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.



Note :


In “Our Magistrates” P.G. gives us his first genuine silly ass, a character stereotype he would use often in the early days — not so much the later. Freddie Rooke and his pals (The Little Warrior/Jill the Reckless) are silly asses. You can tell a Wodehouse silly ass because he’s inane, he babbles and he ends his sentences with ‘and all that sort of thing, don’t you know’ and ‘all that sort of rot.’ (The silly ass is not to be confused with the Knut, however. They are two distinct species.) ‘Teuf-teuf’ is of French origin, onomatopoeic, the sound of an automobile horn tooting twice; electric car horns weren’t developed until 1910; prior to then auto horns were the classic ‘bulb horns’ operated by squeezing a rubber bulb. ‘Teuf-teuf’ began to appear frequently in print around 1903–04 as a slangy ‘good-bye’ as though the speaker were tooting his horn as he was leaving, and became fashionable around 1910. It is a distinctly Knut locution, similar to ‘Bung-ho’, ‘Tinkerty-tonk’, ‘Toodle-oo’, and ‘Honk-honk.’ The prisoner in P.G.’s story is rather a Knut, and the magistrate is a silly ass. The prototypical Knut (pronounced with a hard k as in k’foot) is Psmith, who was to come along in 1908. “Our Magistrates” is the first glance P.G. gives us of what would become one of his most beloved stock characters, and the first use of the Knut-ish farewell that reached its peak with the tinkerty-tonking Bertie Wooster.


John Dawson