Cartoon: Up Pompous

As I said, I’m glad Boris Johnson has recovered enough from the Coronavirus to be sent home. I really don’t want anyone to die from this disease, including BoJob. But his recovery also means that I can at last put up the cartoon below. I was drawing just when it was announced that Johnson had been taken into hospital, and to lampoon the man when he was fighting for his life would have been unacceptable. But Johnson’s illness doesn’t change what he is, or what he and his party stand for. And so they’re still suitable subjects for ridicule and satire.

Johnson prides himself on his classic learning. He presented a series a few years ago on ancient Rome, and had a column in the Spectator when he was its editor, in which he discussed what lessons the classics had for us today. I remember one piece he did in his series about Rome, in which he contrasted the early empire, which was governed by just 12 men, with the army of MEPs and bureaucrats that administer the EU. The obvious lesson there was that smaller government equals good government. Of course the argument falls apart when you consider the vast distance in time, morals and social and technological sophistication, as well as the simple fact that the EU and its constituent nations are meant to be democracies. Ancient Rome wasn’t. It was an oligarchy, in which only a narrow section of the population had the vote, and the only real political power was that of the emperor and the army. The senate continued to meet under the empire, but their debates were so meaningless that I think they more or less stopped having them. One emperor was forced to send them a message requesting them to debate something. With his background in the classics and admiration for ancient Rome, it therefore made sense to lampoon Boris as a Roman politician.

But readers of this blog of a certain age will also remember the late, great Frankie Howerd and the comedy, Up Pompeii. This was set in the famous Roman city, and starred Howerd as the slave, Lurcio. It would start with Lurcio leaving the house, sitting down on a convenient seat, and saying ‘Salute, citizens. And now, the prologue -‘ at which point he would be interrupted by some commotion. And thus would begin that week’s episode. It was a ’70s BBC TV show, but in the winter of 1990-1, it was revived by ITV. Howerd was once again Lurcio. But the show had moved with the times and changed one character. In the original series, I think the son of the family that owned him was supposed to be gay, and the butt of various jokes about effeminacy by Lurcio. This was before the gay rights movement had had quite the impact it has now, when jokes about gays were still acceptable. By the 1990s they weren’t, and so the gay son was replaced by a eunuch, so they could still carry on making the same jokes about lack of masculinity. Sadly, it only lasted one episode, as Howerd died after the first episode was shown.

His material, like the ‘Carry On’ films, is dated now, but Howerd was a great comedian and genuinely funny man. He lived in the village of Mark in Somerset, and after his death his home was turned into a museum. He was very popular and respected there, because whenever they had a village fete, he’d turn up to do a turn and give them his support. He also, I heard, used to rehearse in the church hall. A friend of mine told me he’d actually been in a church service while Howerd was rehearsing, and his lines could be heard coming through the hall. Let’s hope they weren’t the monologue where he pretended to be a vicar, and joked about how last Sunday he held a three-hour service for the incontinent. ‘There wasn’t a dry aisle in the house’, is the punchline to that one.

So I’ve drawn Johnson as a Roman patrician politician, being jeered and pelted with mud, cabbages and buckets of water by the mob. Behind him is Howerd’s Lurcio, looking at once shocked and puzzled, and underneath is one of Howerd’s catchphrases ‘Titter ye not’.

As Johnson and his party are authoritarian and extremely right-wing, I’ve tried to show their Fascistic tendencies in the decoration at the top. The pattern around the panel is based on a Roman design, although I’ve taken a few liberties. If you look at it, it’s composed of repeating swastikas. It also has the fasces, the bundle of rods with an axe attached. This was the ancient Roman symbol of the lictor, a Roman official. The rods symbolised his right to beat, and the axe to behead, Roman citizens. It was also adopted by Mussolini’s Fascists and their counterparts in other nations, like Oswald Mosley’s disgusting BUF.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and it helps cheer you up in these dreadful times.


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5 Responses to “Cartoon: Up Pompous”

  1. trev Says:

    Haha, I loved watching Up Pompeii in the early 70s, though I’m not sure if the son was supposed to be gay but he was rather soppy and always composing Odes. I liked the soothsayer, “Woe, woe, and thrice woe”, and Howerd’s comments made to camera. I’m not sure who the modern counterpart of the soothsayer might be, perhaps Laura Kuensberg? As for the fasces they have that in USA too for some reason in official background symbolism and carved in stone on various buildings, perhaps to represent authority or law and order.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I’d forgotten that the son composed odes. Thinking about it, I don’t know whether the son was gay, but one of the characters was. Or so it was hinted. I remember the soothsayer, and the way she was always crying that! And the asides from Lurcio like, ‘Oh, she’s off again. No, don’t mock. It’s rude to mock the afflicted’, or something like that. I think possibly her counterpart in BoJob’s cabinet would be Nadine Dorries – someone completely mad, who was always predicting how terrible it would be under Labour.
      As for the fasces, I didn’t know the Americans used it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve also seen it on the Nottingham Galleries of Justice, a former court building now a museum. I think it was carved there as a symbol of justice and magisterial authority, as you said.

  2. trev Says:

    Here’s something else to cheer you all up in these dreadful times;

    Smiling is Infectious
    by Spike Milligan

    ​​Smiling is infectious,
    ​you catch it like the flu,​
    When someone smiled at me today,
    ​I started smiling too.​

    I passed around the corner​
    And someone saw my grin.​
    When he smiled I realised
    ​I’d passed it on to him.

    ​I thought about that smile,
    ​then I realised its worth.
    ​A single smile, just like mine
    ​could travel round the earth.

    ​So, if you feel a smile begin,​
    don’t leave it undetected.
    ​Let’s start an epidemic quick,
    ​and get the world infected!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Like it, Trev! I also think that someone quoted it on TV, but only the first stanza. Great comedian, Spike Milligan, and children’s poet. The world was sadly left poorer when he died.

      • trev Says:

        And (if it’s not too much in bad taste at the moment) his epitaph remains; “I told you I was ill” ! Good old Spike.

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