‘The Pitcher’ – Arthur Binstead
This week Mr Slang recalls a weekly sporting rag with a strong sideline in the music-halls and tittle-tattle…

‘For Galahad in his day had been a notable lad about town. A beau sabreur of Romano’s, A Pink ‘Un. A Pelican. A crony of Hughie Drummond and Fatty Coleman; a brother-in-arms of the Shifter, the Pitcher, Peter Blobbs and the rest of an interesting but not strait-laced circle.’
P.G. Woehouse Summer Lightning (1929)

The Master is back. And so soon too. But only en passant. Hands up those who recognised any of the proper nouns above, Galahad ‘Gally’ Threepwood aside. One restaurant, one weekly sporting rag with a strong sideline in the music-halls, one club (membership ostensibly gents only), one aristocratic soldier, one Brobdignagian sponge, two journalists and a tipster (but weren’t they all if given an audience with sufficient straw in  its hair).

They had a ‘Master’ too (of fox hounds rather than literature) and celebrated themselves as his ‘Men’. His name was John Corlett and Vanity Fair’s caricaturist Spy has him as a choleric country squire and racing man, which he was, and sporting men of every definition knew him as proprietor and editor of the The Sporting Times which he had taken over from its founder, the pleasingly named Dr Shorthouse. Printed as would be its financial cousin on pink stock and thus named ‘The Pink Un’ it was blushing, said some, for its contents which were sport – mainly racing and boxing but also cricket for which it created The Ashes (in a piece by Reginald Shirley Brooks, the ‘Peter Blobbs’ of Wodehouse’s lines) – gossip, the halls and their stars (primarily the female variety), and a form of patriotism that depended on sneering at Jews, ‘niggers’ and all things and persons foreign. The humour was nudge-nudge rather than witty, and if it ever approached blue, it was of the palest tinge.

'Master': John Corlett

The writers were Pink Uns too. Some freelanced occasionally for Punch or Fun, and drifted off to write songs or skits for their theatrical friends, but the turf came first and that meant that the Pink ‘Un paid their bar bills and bookies. Best-known was The Shifter who was Willie Goldberg (Jewish by name but seemingly Catholic by confession) and The Pitcher, as in Tale-Pitcher, who was Arthur Binstead, anecdotalist supreme and the paper’s star. Among much else he wrote a column penned in ripest ‘Jewish’ called ‘Houndsditch Day by Day’ and signed ‘Morris the Mohel.’ (A mohel being one who performs circumcisions). Yet aside from the innate jibing that underpinned the whole conceit, it was remarkably neutral, even affectionate to its East End subjects and displays an egregious command of Yiddish. But then Binstead had a Jewish wife.

Peter Blobbs was one among many pseudonyms: others included Nathaniel Gubbins, Ballyhooley, Jim the Penman, Roi d’Atout (French for ‘king of trumps’ and pronounced ‘Rooty-Tooty’) and The Dwarf of Blood who as Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davies was perhaps London’s first ever restaurant reviewer and much revered as such. The Pink ’Uns liked their food and with it drink and while the snottier or at least more pretentious end of the market might be seen with Oscar at the Café Royal in Regent Street, down the market, or any way across the other side of Trafalgar Square was little brother Willie, an occasional Pink Un, dining with the rest of them at Romano’s, the culinary centrepiece of the Strand. Here one found Pink ‘Un writers and readers. Younger sons, prize-fighters (the later often ‘minding’ the former), bookies, bloodstock owners, music hall artistes and, though none of the memoirists have ever have been so vulgar as to say so, whores, or certainly grandes horizontales. Visiting colonials and pink-cheeked subalterns – who were more used to reading than joining in – gawped at the show and mouthed the names of their passing heroes. Hughie Drummond, a drinker whose liver proved a doughtier opponent than foes dispatched on foreign fields, liked to dunk their heads into the aquarium where the restaurant’s lobsters lounged away their final hours. And if they weren’t at Romano’s then it was the Pelican Club in Gerrard Street which, like many Pink Un entertainments which seemed to sell more than was ever paid for, was fun while it lasted.

Then there was Henry Benzon, better known as the Jubilee Juggins. Benzon, who inherited £250,000  from his father, a Birmingham umbrella frame-maker, went through it in less than two years. That had been fun while it lasted too. The stumers started bouncing in 1887. It was Victoria’s Golden Jubilee that year, and at least he earned a nickname. The Romano’s regulars established a fund to give him one pound a day for life.

The Pink Un’s also boasted ‘Doss Chiderdoss’. The name which allegedly means ‘sleep, gently sleep’ and refers to the slang doss, a bed or a sleep, was the pen-name of A.R. Marshall. Marshall wrote a weekly ‘Pome’ which adorned the journal’s cover. For instance, ‘Meg’s Diversion: A Sonnet in Slang’, in the edition of 4 September 1897:

A tear-drop fell from the girl’s mince-pie,
And her raspberry-tart was torn
With anguish; For she’d an empty sky,
And nothing to bullock’s horn.

But she cooled each mince with a little scent,
And her Barnet arranged with grace;
And then down the apples and pears she went
With a sorrowful Chevy Chase.

The  Pink Uns were nearer to Egan’s Tom and Jerry or Surtees’ Jorrocks and Soapy Sponge than anything more recent. World War I carved an awful chasm between then and now and the Sporting Times was wholly on its further side. The magazine struggled on through the Twenties but it was not cut out for modernity, let alone modernism. Ulysses, it would note in 1922, ‘appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine.’

It folded a decade later. Wodehouse’s timeless cavalcade could still find it a place – and even that was in a memoir – but that was an exception. The Depression left little time to reminisce over the supposedly ‘Naughty’ Nineties. Arthur Binstead had died on 14 November 1914, the final day of the first battle of Ypres. That the Pitcher never saw the four years of horrors that followed, let alone faced relaunching a life in the war’s aftermath seems wholly fitting.

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

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  1. Worm on Thursday 8, 2012

    So much of interest throughout, sending me scurrying off around the web to find out more. Never knew Chevy Chase was rhyming slang for face, I wonder if Cornelius Chase knew that when he adopted the pseudonym?

  2. Brit on Thursday 8, 2012

    Ulysses “appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine”… Hard to argue with that, really.

  3. Brit on Thursday 8, 2012

    Incidentally the Bristol Evening Post’s sports edition is called the Green ‘Un.

    • Jonathon Green on Thursday 8, 2012

      I think there were lots of those Saturday ‘after the match’ sporting specials produced in provincial cities and called The —— ‘Un. (— depending on colour of stock). Obviously some still come out. All very Tony Richardson early-1960s black and white ‘oop North’ movies: Rachel Roberts falling out of a black slip, Albert Finney in a wife-beater and coal dust and a copy of the — ‘Un on the kitchen table.

  4. George on Thursday 8, 2012

    Isn’t it said that the Pink ‘Un was the only newspaper to mention the relations of Edward the Caresser and Lily Pons? It is odd that it should have noticed Ulysses.

    For Americans of the mid-Atlantic states, Chevy Chase is a neighborhood of Washington, DC, and of the Maryland suburbs adjoining. I doubt the comedian had rhyming slang or a border ballad in mind.

  5. Gaw on Thursday 8, 2012

    Wonderful, JG. You have an astonishing ability to evoke an era – one can practically smell it.

  6. jonathan law on Thursday 8, 2012

    Wonderful stuff indeed — and such pseudonyms (if I had my time again, I would certainly comment exclusively as “The Dwarf of Blood’).

    Googling about, I came across this remarkable document — the memoirs (1919?) of Frank M. Boyd, journalist, theatrical hanger-on, and proprietor of the Pelican Club. Apart from anything else, A Pelican’s Tale: Fifty Years of London and Elsewhere has perhaps the finest collection of chapter headings I have ever seen: little headers that call up a whole universe, and one that at times seems to have entered into a bilateral border treaty with Mr Key’s.

    A selection follows:

    Sir James Simpson, the inventor of chloroform, helps: His seal-skin coat and waistcoat

    Bishop Wordsworth and the rook’s eggs: Shedding my blood in their defence

    A headmaster who believed in leather

    Mr. Arthur Balfour as Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club

    An indifferent fireman

    A disagreeable adventure which might have had consequences

    The most recent Kaiser and the ridiculous figure he cut on the occasion

    Bismarck drunk, but far from incapable

    How I stood up to “the big fellow” and how I most successfully took the knock

    How Bishop Thorold lost his spectacles at the Athenaeum: Who stole them? A dreadful supposition

    Alec Knowles and his “Wrinkles”

    The Whistler-Moore fracas at Drury Lane: How they slapped one another to the amusement of onlookers, and did little harm

    How Charlie Mitchell, champion boxer of England, told me a funny story ”not for publication” … How Mitchell and Pony Moore subsequently called at the office to have a heart-to-heart talk with us

    “The Dwarf of Blood”: How Colonel Newnham-Davis came by his style and title

    The “Dwarf” as a cookery genius: His famous Guy Fawkes dinner, and those who were present

    A very distinguished admirer of “Pitcher”: How he was mistaken for a German spy: His singularly apt retort

    A very different man from his notorious brother Oscar

    The Milsom-Fowler affair at the Old Bailey: How Fowler nearly murdered Milsom in the dock

    Bogus advertising agents who preyed on newspapers: I suffer from them and some of them suffer from me

    The simple art of protecting oneself: Sometimes an easier matter than calling in the police

    A nest of ladies’ journals

    An unpaid curate for fifty years

    His story of the Satrap and the physician

    The man who had no shirt

    Mr. Arthur Roberts and Mr. James Fawn in the heyday of their music-hall success

    Fatty’s chair

    Major Hope-Johnstone’s celebrated moustache: How Lord Esme Gordon bought it

    A dreadful title: What the good Queen must have thought

    Lennox Browne, a warm friend of the Stage and a great throat specialist

    The value of personal appearance to a surgeon

    Mr. Arthur Roberts and his zebra bathing suit: His philosophical dresser

    Miss Lottie Collins and her “Boom-de-ay” success

    Nellie Farren’s reason for never quarrelling with a chorus girl: Very sound advice

    How I saved Sir Arthur Sullivan’s life

    A private recital by Paderewski to an audience of six

    Bessie’s opinion of Providence

    The subscription-seeking clergyman and the embarrassed spectre

    Frank Richardson the “Whisker” expert

    My list of suicides

    “Beetle” Kemble’s little mistake in Hamlet

    The libel on Sir Charles Wyndham’s sobriety

    A matter of trousers

    Nini Patte-en-l’air at the Duke of York’s

    Whimsical Walker and the purchase of Jumbo the elephant

    The Duke of Fife as a bicyclist

    The hangman’s letter and his hope: What an execution is really like: Not so thrilling as it is usually painted

    How King Edward and “Labby” agreed to differ

    The murder of William Terris: What became of his hat

    The Maharaja of Cooch Behar: A fine sportsman and a very “white” native: His theatrical supper party, and what occurred at it: The lightning change of the Maharaja from an English gentleman to an Eastern potentate: What he said to his dependant: The extraordinary effect his words produced

    • Jonathon Green on Thursday 8, 2012

      Gorgeous stuff, JL.Once you start pursuing that period it is dense with pleasures. A hyper-confident country, keen to remind itself and others of the fact. And vanished, wholly vanished as completely as if it had never been. As I suggest, a mood that couldn’t have survived the war. That said, the works of JB Booth, an ex-Pink ‘Un hack, came out in the 1930s and rehash most of it: Pink Parade, Old Pink ‘Un Days, A Pink ‘Un Remembers, Sporting Times, etc etc.

  7. Worm on Thursday 8, 2012

    Jl that list is perfect Frank Key!!

  8. Susan on Thursday 8, 2012

    As curiously fascinating as ever, Jonathon. And brobdignagian/brobdingnagian? Must remember that one for Countdown :-)

  9. John Halliwell on Thursday 8, 2012

    Another great post, Jonathon.

    I was a kid in the mid fifties and stood about 5 feet 3 inches. I spent every second Saturday afternoon, from September to end April, on the Old Trafford terraces cheering on Busby’s brilliant teams. I was often lodged between rough, tough Mancunians who always seemed to be unshaven, spat a lot, swore even more, wore shabby raincoats, cloth caps, hobnailed boots, and seemed to me to be at least 6 feet 7 inches tall; they just don’t make women like that any more. It was wonderful: no threat of violence; no overt hatred of visiting teams and their supporters, relative tolerance shown to the failings of officials. And the slang – glorious slang: “You bleedin’ wazzock” “Shut your gob, you f***ing barmpot”, “You sken-eyed mard arse.”, On the final whistle, 60,000 fans seemed to converge at the very same moment on the railway bridge on Warwick Road, and I swear my feet never once touched the ground; I was carried over the bridge wedged, and rapidly turning blue, between two large, but always good-natured, chaps. The point is simply this: by the time I’d gasped and staggered my way to Warwick Road railway station, about half a mile from the ground, I was able to buy a copy of the Manchester Evening News Football Pink, which carried an account of the match I’d just attended, including photographs. Unbelievable! I then relived the match through the pages of the Pink on the 40 minute train journey home; then into the chippy for fourpenny’s worth and do you know what? They were wrapped in that day’s Football Pink!

    God bless the deceased Pink and all those avid readers who spent the following week scrubbing printers’ ink from their fingers.

    • Jonathon Green on Thursday 8, 2012

      All that makes me think of Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar (though that were Yorkshire), the text of which I once knew by heart and which, though I may be wrong, I am pretty sure boasts some form of — ‘Un too. FYI sken is old: In English Dialect Dict. of 1907 of course, and found on either side of the Pennines as well as Lakeland and the Midlands, but OED has it in Cotgrave’s French-English dictionary of 1611: ‘Bigle, skenning, squinting, looking askew, or nine waies at once.’ Mard, which I remember as mardy in 1950s Lincoln, where it meant whiny, comes from marred, and OED first finds it in Sheffield in 1874 and referring to a spoiled child. Your wazzock memory is interesting: the OED can’t find it before 1976, but does note northern origins. Not in Google Books back then either and I’m no better in GDoS.

      • John Halliwell on Thursday 8, 2012

        Thank you for such an interesting reply, Jonathon. If the GDoS can’t help, there’s no hope. I do love the word wazzock: so much more endearing than pillock, and more emphatic than barmpot, which somehow gets stuck in my teeth at the halfway point. I’m sure I remember my Dad shaking his head and exclaiming in despair: “Yer a reet wazzock, John; daft as a brush; when I say ‘put’th wood in’th ‘ole’ I mean shut’th door not bung a chippendale on’th fire.”