. . . Topsy Turvy

. . .

Movie Comment: It's not surprising that the best parts of Topsy Turvy ("IT'LL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE WATCHING A BUNCH OF EXTRAS STAND UP AND CHEER!" - NY Film Critics) are the backstage-verité scenes -- given his working methods, rehearsals are probably pretty much all Mike Leigh sees of life nowadays -- but even some of those seemed a little queasy. Like the orchestral runthrough where an undisciplined fiddler refers to superstar conductor-composer Sullivan as "Dr. Sullivan" and is heartily corrected ('cause I guess it's supposed to be "Sir Arthur") by a fellow orchestra member, earning appreciative chuckles from the elderly Berkeley audience, who undoubtedly have their own problems with uppity underlings.

Man, I was with the sloppy guy: the only really proper title for a musician is "Perfesser." "Doctor" was already pushing it!

As Nature's Nobleman, H. L. Mencken, pointed out in The American Language: Supplement I, us Americans don't get a lot of practice when it comes to English titular grammar like "Lord before His Grace except after Excellency." Since it was clear that his copyeditors were never going to get titles right, in 1942, Robert R. McCormick, editor of the Chicago Tribune, decided it wasn't worth the trouble to print them at all. But then the English Disapproval Chorale (lead tenor the London Daily Telegraph, owned by Baron Camrose of Long Cross, né William Ewett Barry) turned out not to like that either.

Mencken quotes McCormick's response:

Obviously there would be no confusion in any one's mind if we omitted the Sir from Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery. Nor would any one be in doubt about the identity of the person described as Gov. Windsor of the Bahamas. These changes in style would promote the idea in American minds that our allies, like us, are fighting for democracy....

So far as this country is concerned it will make considerable sacrifices to preserve a British democracy, but it doesn't find any great satisfaction in fighting for an aristocratic Britain. In deference to American opinion we should expect the British to abolish their titles and the privileges that go with them. After all, the deprivation wouldn't amount to much; it isn't as if Camrose didn't have another name that sounds less like soap to fall back on.


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