My colleague Brian Jenner told me today that he'd heard of the death of Fred Metcalf. Fred was one of modern rhetoric's unsung heroes: a jokesmith and writer for the great and good, who has not received the recognition he deserved - and undoubtedly shunned. His lugubrious, subversive humour will be greatly missed.
Read Brian's obituary - where are the notices in the national press? Fred deserves better.
Here is my short review of his book, The Biteback Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations. The very title somehow conjures a wry smile.
Fred Metcalf: The Biteback Dictionary of Humorous Political Quotations
Biteback Publishing, 2012
ISBN 978 1849542 241
A good book of quotations is like a box of superior chocolates. You enjoy one, and before you know it...
Fred Metcalf’s collection of political quotations is among the most superior. His range is remarkable, historically (from Cicero to blog postings from 2012) and stylistically. He includes one-liners and slow-burners of up to 60 words; he quotes real people and fictional characters (The West Wing is well represented). Some of the humour is broad (including – perhaps a few too many – American stand-up comedians); some traditionally witty; and some satirical (Yes Minister is here).
You’ll find writers, actors, activists and plenty of real politicians, many of them with their own entries: quotation collages that deliver caricatured, often surreal pen portraits. The entries on national characteristics brazenly celebrate their own political incorrectness. Metcalf is happy to include Anon, and its more recent descendant, the bumper sticker (“GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE. ABORTION CLINICS KILL PEOPLE.”) “That’s humour at work,” chuckles Metcalf in his introduction; “ever ready to undermine your most precious and long-held beliefs. It thinks it’s funny!”
One quibble. The dictionary is arranged by subject, including issues, movements, philosophies and political parties. My pedantic side would have welcomed an index of authors.
Use this book in two ways. Reach for it when you want to add the sharp tang of a ready-made quotation to a speech. And study it closely to discover the secrets of being quotable.
Fred and Rodger Evans at a recent European Speechwriters Network conference