THE POCKET SHAW
POST 7 – SHAW – THE ABRIDGED PLAY
By Neil Titley
+ Introduction and the FILM. + Timeline: The Life of Bernard Shaw + Bibliography (1200w)
The Reminiscences: ‘Guff and Bunk and Bugaboo’. (20,400w)
The Ideas: ‘P.P.E. and G.B.S!’ (11,600w)
Ten Talks on Music: ‘Music for Deaf Stockbrokers’. (24,700w)
GBS Quotations: ‘A Shavian Scrapbook’. (15,100w)
The Play: ‘The Intelligent Golfer’s Guide to Bernard Shaw’ (11,500w)
The Abridged Play ‘Shaw’s Corner’ (4,300w)
THE POCKET SHAW
A short version adjusted for theatrical performance.
By Neil Titley
CLASSICAL MUSIC INTERRUPTED BY RADIO ANNOUNCEMENT.
It is with regret that we interrupt our programme to report the death of the playwright, Mr. George Bernard Shaw. He died today at his home in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, aged 94. He was famed as the writer of over fifty plays, including St. Joan, Heartbreak House and Pygmalion. In his long lifetime, he was on intimate terms with many of the world’s leaders and personalities. Tributes have arrived from many countries.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and possessors of complimentary tickets. I had better introduce myself – if that is really necessary. I confess that I am not addicted to the modest cough of the minor poet. I am G. B. S. And for nomenclatary purposes I may be called a Fabian Communist and a Creative Evolutionist, if I must have a label at all. At present I am stuck all over with labels rather like a tourist’s trunk.
Though my trade is that of playwright, my vocation is that of prophet with occasional lapses into what uncivil people call buffoonery. I was described recently in America as a dignified old monkey shying coconuts at the public in pure senile devilment. My reply to America is best left unsaid.
Well, I am going to talk to you about my life and probably about your lives as well. I’ll not pull my punches. Beware of timidity and diffidence. It’s too often a calculation that silence looks like wisdom – in other words, if you hold your tongue and look all knowing, you’ll get through life without your ignorance being found out.
Youth is wasted on the young and I wasted mine in Ireland. I showed my appreciation of my native land in the usual Irish way by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could. It is only the Irishman whose enthusiasm for his birthplace increases the further away from it he is. How many of all those millions who have left Ireland have ever come back to it, or wanted to come back? The only sensible institution in the Emerald Isle was absenteeism.
On top of that, we had Ulster. If you have never been to Ireland you do not what Protestantism is. I once exhorted the Irish Protestants to take a chance, trust their grit, and play their part in a single parliament ruling a united Ireland. They did not take my advice. Probably they did not even read it, being too deeply absorbed in the latest irrefutable proof that all the evil in the world is the work of that malevolent underground conspiracy called the Jesuits. I argued for the two sides to meet to discuss common ground, but that too was ignored.
Admittedly, the spectacle of a number of Ulster gentlemen trying to look as if they thought there was a great deal to be said for transubstantiation, confronted by a row of Catholic prelates trying to look on the bright side of Martin Luther, does not bear much contemplation. But the windbags of the two rival platforms are utterly insufferable. It requires neither knowledge, nor character, nor conscience to thump the Nationalist or Orange tub; nay, it puts a premium on the rancour and callousness that has given rise to the proverb that if you put an Irishman on a spit, you will always find another Irishman to baste him.
The other day it was proposed to me that I should help uplift my downtrodden country by assembling with other Irishmen to romance about I798. I do not take the slightest interest in 1798. Until Irishmen apply themselves seriously to what the condition of Ireland is to be in 1998, they will get very little patriotism out of G. B. Shaw. Still, there is hope for Ireland. You can always rally a nation that has some wit left in it.
England, when I arrived, provided a different lunacy. If you eliminate smoking and the element of gambling, you will be amazed to find that almost all an Englishman’s pleasures can be – and mostly are – shared by his dog. The brain, as English society is at present constituted, can hardly be considered to be a vital organ. Talk to an Englishman about anything serious and he listens to you curiously for a moment, just as he listens to a chap playing classical music. Then he goes back to his golf or his motoring just like a bit of stretched elastic when you let it go.
There is nothing that the English hate more than brains. For brains and religion you have to go to Scotland – and Scotland is the most damnable country on earth. Still, God help England if she had no Scots to think for her, and without the Irish she would die of respectability within two generations.
Speaking of respectability, I find it a most strange thing but people do seem to take the most gratuitous interest in my sex life. What sex life you may ask? I am described by the newspapers as an ascetic. Everybody who does not live in a prostitute’s bed and on a diet of cocaine is called an ascetic these days. But although I did delay the end of my celibate state till the age of twenty nine, I suppose I was as amorous as most men.
In fact, strangely enough, I got rather a bad reputation at one stage of my career. But what the English did not realise was that I was raised in Ireland, and they did not understand that my natural flirtatiousness was misunderstood by English women.
If you pay an Irishwoman a gallant compliment, she grins and says: “Arra, g’long with you”.
An Englishwoman turns deadly pale, and says in a strangled voice: “I hope you meant what you just said?”
And it’s devilish difficult to explain that you didn’t.
Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity. But real married life is too often the story of the youth and the maiden who pluck a flower from the mountainside and bring down an avalanche on their shoulders.
In my early forties, I developed what I thought was a gangrenous foot together with the effects of falling down an entire flight of stairs. In this woeful condition, I met Charlotte Payne-Townshend – my green-eyed Irish millionairess.
Charlotte and I were determined not to marry. However, under the impression I was dying, I did offer her widowhood. Even on recovery I have stayed married to Charlotte for a reason I never thought possible; namely that I thought more of somebody else than I did of myself. I got to like her so much that it would have been superfluous to fall in love with her. And we have been happy. There was never any question of breeding though – she had a morbid horror of maternity – and she was forty anyway.
Also, although I might believe in sex outside marriage, I don’t believe in sex within it. The great lovers never exposed their adulation to the test of domesticity and therefore it lasted them to the grave. Marry your man or woman and at the end of the week you’ll find no more inspiration in them than in a plate of muffins. Over the years I, who started as Charlotte’s passion, have become a habit. We are never heroes to our families.
The fickleness of the women I have loved is only equalled by the infernal constancy of the women who have loved me. And of all women I had to go and fall head over heels in love with Mrs Patrick Campbell.
Stella! Now there was a love affair. I really did love her. I offered to write her a certificate to that effect if she wanted. I wrote her the most idiotic love letters – but then Beethoven also wrote love letters – and whatever mine may contain they cannot be more fatuous than Beethoven’s.
LOOKS AT LETTER.
Well, this one certainly wasn’t from Stella. ‘Lady Pulman will be At Home on Thursday at 5pm.’
So will Bernard Shaw.
I seem to spend my entire life replying to letters these days. I had one yesterday from the Woodford Amateur Dramatic Society: ‘Can we play Candida?’ I replied that I did not know but they could try.
When I came to London in 1876 I tried my hand as a novelist and turned my back on money. It returned the compliment. I wrote five novels, one after the other, and I quite freely admit that they were dreadful. Anybody who could read ‘The Irrational Knot’ could read anything, Still, you can’t learn to skate without making yourself ridiculous and I kept trying. My third novel was rejected by Macmillans with the comment that ‘they would be glad to look at anything else I might write of a more substantial kind’. Now, you must admit that when one deals with two large sociological questions in a novel and throws in an exposition of modern German Socialism as set forth by Marx as a make-weight, it is rather startling to be met with an implied accusation of triviality.
Anyway, try as I might, I could not find a publisher. Until, of course, after I became a successful playwright when publishers started printing anything they could find that bore my name. Suddenly, these youthful horrors were resurrected for public consumption. But the buffoons started printing them in the wrong order, starting at the last one and working back to the first.
I learnt from the American newspapers that the list of book sales in the USA was headed by a certain novel called ‘Cashel Byron’s Profession’ by Bernard Shaw. This was unmistakably Opus Five.
Apparently the result was encouraging, for presently the same publishers produced a new edition of ‘An Unsocial Socialist’ – Opus Four – in criticising which the more thoughtful reviewers, unaware that the publisher was working backwards, pointed out: ‘the marked advance in style, the surer grip, the clearer form, the more mature view of the world’ and so forth.
So I turned to plays. Nothing is more significant than the statement ‘All the world’s a stage’. The whole world is ruled by theatrical illusion. Writing plays is not difficult. But there are a few things that one must remember.
Once accepted, make it plain to the director that he must play what you have written and not what he thinks you ought to have written. And to avoid confusion, one must write clear stage directions for the actors to perform.
I remember a fabulously awful stage direction in one play: ‘Sir William turns his back to the audience and conveys that he has a son at Harrow’. It makes life very difficult for the thespian community.
After my first few ventures into play writing, none of which had been seriously produced, I wondered whether it was worthwhile going on. But man is a creature of habit. You cannot write three plays and then stop.
Then came success – and with success, of course, came the detractors like seagulls after a fishing boat.
After the opening night of ‘The Apple Cart’, I received a rather appealing letter of complaint from a greengrocer who wrote that he was disappointed in the play because, after buying a ticket, he could not find a single reference to apples anywhere.
The one play that attracted praise everywhere from the start was ‘St. Joan’. To begin with, I was not really interested in the subject. I had been looking around for an historical character. Someone suggested a Protestant play about the Dutch leader William the Silent. But I found the idea of William being Silent at the top of his voice for four hours too bizarre even for me.
I would have preferred to write a play about Mahomet rather than St Joan but was worried in case some Arab fanatic should decide to assassinate me for blasphemy. Assassination after all is the sincerest form of censorship. However, at Charlotte’s suggestion I wrote ‘St. Joan’ and immediately found myself the object of veneration from the most unlikely quarters. The play certainly changed things. Before it, people used to laugh when I was serious. Now the fashion has changed. They take their hats off when I joke which is still more trying.
Anyway, let them take it as they will. Play writing is fun and I’ve never taken myself that seriously. Anyhow, I possess a small secret. Every time I see a Chekhov play, I want to go home and burn one of mine.
LOOKS AT BOOKS ON TABLE. STANDS BEHIND ARMCHAIR.
Socialism is the greatest of my passions. I studied economics and pioneered Socialism because I had curiosity enough to find out how it was that some people got money for nothing, whilst others slaved for £13 a week or less and died in poverty after working hard all their lives.
Now lots of people don’t like Socialism but I do not consider public control is a bad thing in itself. I greatly prefer it to the irresponsible and sometimes vicious private control which is the only real alternative.
Let me say something on what Capitalism does, not just to the economy of a country, but to its very fabric. Capitalism takes it as a matter of course that the proper use of cleverness in this world is to take advantage of stupid people to obtain a larger share than they deserve of the nation’s income. It is claimed that success and failure in capitalism are the reward of moral qualities. It is true that certain vices and weaknesses make us poor but it is also true that it is certain other vices that make us rich. It is not the ability for money-making that is rare, but the taste and selfishness for it. Commercial ability is often really mere spiderish-ness. Capitalism has destroyed our belief in any effective power but that of self-interest, backed by force.
We cannot go on this way. A society which depends on the incentive of private profit is doomed. We would have died of capitalism already had not our country been built up on the Ten Commandments and on the Gospels and the reasoning of jurists and philosophers, all of which are flatly opposed to the concept of private profit. Let these principles go and Capitalism which has destroyed many ancient civilisations, will destroy ours if we are not very careful.
I am at heart an inveterate world betterer. There is an eternal war between those who are in the world for what they can get out of it, and those who are in the world to make it a better place for everyone to live in.
I have utter contempt for the mean minded little egotists whose idea of government is to appoint committees of myopic skinflints; whose notion of natural economy is to cut off our education, our locomotion, and our recreation; who believe that human nature is so poor that it is useless to try and improve anything; and who think that life is nothing else except not being stone dead and then, through chattering teeth, stammering the words ‘Survival of the Fittest’.
A curse on them and their petty little minds. We must leave the world better than we found it – or this war ravaged planet will fail to pieces about our ears.
LIGHTS FADE IN TO CLOSE SPOT ON SHAW’S FACE.
SOUND OF DISTANT GUNFIRE.
So we stand amidst the ruin of Europe. Everyone considered that the Germans would cave in quickly. But the Germans had powerful allies, chief amongst them being the British War Office. I don’t know why it is being called the Great War. It’s a big war but that’s not the same thing. The historians will shower us with reasons why it has happened but the reality lies in the stupidity of our statesmen and the moral void in the human heart.
Also there was the susceptibility of the masses to war fever. Acres of print were spent in convincing us of the morality of our cause. In starting this war, there was about as much ethical content as the collision of two trains. Any person who has persuaded himself that of two customs houses a few hundred yards apart, one is full of murderers and villains and the other of angels and heroes, clearly ought to be in Broadmoor and not editing a newspaper.
It must not be imagined that the soldiers are all for the war, though. The contrary would be nearer the truth. But the soldiers are driven on by the inexorable mad logic. The mechanisation of modern war greatly reduces the power of the human conscience to keep abuses in check. It would be hard to induce a youth of ordinary good nature to take a woman with a baby in her arms and tear the two to pieces with a Mills bomb in full view of the explosion.
But the same youth, thousands of feet up in a war plane and preoccupied with the management of his machine and accuracy of aim, will release a bomb that will blow a whole street of family homes into smithereens – burning, blinding, mutilating scores of mothers and babies, without seeing anything of his handiwork except the glow of a conflagration which is as pretty as a fire-work. The hospital surgeon sees what the pilot has done but it is the pilot and not the surgeon who releases the bomb.
I could not divide my conscience into a War Department and a Peace Department. And so I printed my opinions in a pamphlet called ‘Common Sense about the War’.
Of course, the response to this essay was predictable. I was attacked as being pro-German – a pro-German being any person who kept his head amid the prevailing lunacy. I was excommunicated from every tennis club, every golf club, and even from the County Wexford Bee-Keepers association, an organisation that I had not the faintest memory of ever joining.
Of course, not even something as hideous as the trenches can be totally without humour. An old friend of mine, although fifty two years of age, volunteered for service. When his hair turned white in a single night in the trenches his officers suspected shell shock. The cause in fact was that the old boy was unable to procure his usual supply of hair dye.
If we did not die of laughter at the humours of war, we should die of horror. Europe in fact is dying of horror though she does not know it. And at the end of it all, the waste; the stupid, mind staggering, brutal waste. It’s a sickening business this sending lambs to the slaughter because we are governed by bloody fools, wire-pulled by damned thieves.
And this is not a mere British consideration. To the civilised man, the slaughter of German youth is as disastrous as the slaughter of the English. Fools exult in the German losses. They are our losses as well. Imagine exulting in the death of Beethoven simply because Bill Sykes dealt him the death blow.
Today I heard that Stella’s darling son Beo has been killed.
Wait a week and I will be clever and broadminded again.
But now – oh, damn, damn, DAMN!
LIGHTS UP AGAIN ON SHAW SITTING IN ARMCHAIR.
To most men age brings, not wisdom, but golf.
As I grow older, my biographers crowd thicker and faster. What on earth they will find to write about, I don’t know. I am not that interesting biographically. I have never killed anybody and nothing very interesting has happened to me. I have had no heroic adventures. All my happenings have taken the form of books and plays. Read them or spectate them and you have my whole story. The rest is only breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleeping, waking and washing, my routine being just the same as anybody else’s routine. I am not a Superman, certainly not the man of romance. I am the typical suburbanite who goes off to work every day, respectable, debt paying and secretly proud of the fact that my roses are the reddest in the road, only in my case it happens to be plays and not roses.
One curious fact has emerged though. Nearly all my biographers are Tories. And while they are painstaking on such subjects as how many pairs of socks I possess, they have an odd habit of skating over such minor topics as Socialism or the Salvation of the World. They practically ignore them while praising me for irrelevancies. It is as if I told them that the house was on fire and they replied: “How admirably monosyllabic”.
One young man has written to me that he is considering suicide. Well, if he is convinced that he is not worth his salt and is an intolerable nuisance to himself and everyone else, suicide is a solution to be considered. But I would always advise such people to put this off until the next day in case something interesting turns up in the evening.
Unhappiness is a warning to move on, not sit down. You may think you can’t move on but you can. At those sort of hopeless moments people are like the old prisoner in the Bastille sawing the bars of his little window with a watch spring so intently that he does not notice that the door has long been wide open.
The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation because occupation means preoccupation, and the preoccupied person is neither happy nor unhappy but simply alive and active which is pleasanter than any other happiness.
LIGHTS FADE SLIGHTLY.
Yesterday Fleet Street decided I was dead – until I denied the allegation over the telephone……
Now, where did you all come from and what did you come to see? An old man who was once a famous playwright and talked about everything on earth and wrote about it………
I want to go with my regalia around me. This is the regalia of St. Pancras Council and this….. I am still an Irishman and – quite unreasonably – intensely proud of being Irish…… this, the insignia of Dublin. I accepted the invitation to become a Freeman of Dublin because she alone has the right to affirm that in spite of my incessantly controversial past and present, I have not disgraced her. And I’ll be the only Viking in Valhalla wearing the St. Pancras Borough Council sash………..
Any regrets? Not many. No, none. If I were not a gloriously successful man, in England they would have dismissed me as an Irishman, and in America as a Socialist. Well, I did not fail and that’s all there is to it. In fact I have been the most salutary influence in England in the last fifty years. Now alas my prophecies are forgotten in the excitement created by their fulfilment…………
Do you ever study the cinema? I, who now go to the ordinary theatre with effort and reluctance, cannot keep away from the cinema. If I had to start my career all over again I would prefer cinema scripts and television over the platform. Someone rang me to say that in box office terms I am now bigger than Greta Garbo. I suppose this is meant to cheer me up. The Hollywood people suggested Garbo to play St. Joan. I am convinced that if the play was about the Blessed Virgin Mary, they would suggest Mae West……….
Alfred Hitchcock, the tubby Cockney film director, called on me one day and after the first handshakes said affably:
“One look at you, Mr. Shaw, and I know there is a famine in the land”.
“And one look at you, Mr. Hitchcock, and I know who caused it”……….
What the devil is to become of you all without your shepherd, God only knows? But the world contrived to get on before I was born – I don’t quite know how – and I dare say it will make some sort of lame shift after I am dead. Good luck…..
Of course, the real joke was that I was in earnest. I didn’t go to all this trouble simply to amuse the public…………
Oh, look here, I am getting talking. I must stop. Well, it is very pleasant to have seen you all here, and to think that you are my audience and all that, because I am a born actor myself. I like an audience. I am like a child in that respect………..
You know, Leslie Howard was not right as Professor Higgins. He didn’t have the strength of will. When we do the remake we must have Charles Laughton.
Remind me to tell the director……….
Look up, my dears, look up to the heavens. There is more to life than this. There is much more………….
LIGHTS STAY UP ON SHAW.
THE RADIO ANNOUNCEMENT CONTINUES.
Our political correspondent states that it is expected that a funeral ceremony will be held at Westminster Abbey. The question is being discussed by the Prime Minister and the Dean of Westminster today. Shaw will be cremated at 4pm on Monday at Golders Green Crematorium.
A week ago, the Third Programme telephoned Mr. Shaw to ask him whether, in consideration of his work for the cause of music, he would like the BBC to play a record on the wireless for him. He did make a request but tragically died before we could broadcast it. We would now like to play it in his memory.
MUSIC — ‘Knock ‘em in the Old Kent Road’ by Marie Lloyd.