Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ashley Sterne The Premier's Christmas Party

The following sketch is the earliest comic article that I have located for Ashley Sterne.  The topical article is clever but quite dated.  I found most of the jokes impenetrable.  One would need a comprehensive knowledge of Edwardian politics and culture in order to appreciate the humor.  As far as I know, Sterne never again attempted political satire.

"The Premier's Christmas Party"
December 13, 1913
The Observer, Adelaide

Dignitaries mentioned:  (Government positions as of 1913)
Herbert H. Asquith, Prime Minister and Liberal politician
Winston Churchill, Conservative politician and First Lord of the Admiralty
Walter Runciman, Liberal politician and President of the Board of Trade
David Lloyd George, Liberal politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer
Emmeline Pankhurst, British suffragette
Frederick Banbury, Conservative politician
Austen Chamberlain, Conservative politician and son of politician Joseph Chamberlain
Andrew Bonar Law, Conservative politician
Edward Carson, Irish Unionist politician
Arthur Balfour, former Prime Minister and Unionist politician
Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Liberal politician, anti-German
Keir Hardie, Labour politician, pacifist, and campaigner for self-rule for India
John Redmond, Irish nationalist politician
Silvester Horne, Congregationalist minister and Liberal M.P.
Walter Long, Conservative politician
Will Thorne, Labour politician
Rufus Isaacs, Liberal politician and Lord Chief Justice
John Burns, Liberal politician
Marquess of Lansdowne, Conservative politician
Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, former Prime Minister
John Edward Bernard Seely, Liberal politician and former Secretary of State for War
Reginald McKenna, Liberal politician and Home Secretary
Richard Haldane, Liberal Imperialist politician and Lord Chancellor
George Robey, music hall performer

The Premier's Christmas Party

. . . And so, after much discussion, my dear B., the Chief finally decided, amidst cheers from Vernon (my fellow Secretary) and myself, to sink all differences of petty political opinion, and to invite a select number of both Government and Opposition to a non-Party Christmas party.  Thus, would he strive to promote peace on earth ("positively for one night only," as they say on the posters), and as much goodwill towards men as politicians could reasonably be expected to assume.

A difficulty arose at the outset as to who should be invited, as it was obvious that both Houses could not be asked en bloc; nor could the faithful Commons be asked solo.  As H.H. himself said, "It would be too much like taking in our own washing."  Eventually, however, it was arranged that both Front Benches should be invited, together with those of either side who thought they ought to be Front Bench but weren't.  I pointed out to the Chief that this would be synonymous with asking the whole jolly House; but he merely told me to use my discretion in the matter, and also to include a leavening from the Lords, in order to remind ourselves that we were still democratic enough not to care with whom we mixed.  He added, further, that if anything went biff, I should be responsible.  A pretty state of affairs, my boy – but it is a recognized fact in our political life that, if there is ever a departmental catastrophe, it's always the fault of some unfortunate underling, who has either exceeded or neglected his instructions!


Well, Vernon and I got out all the formal invitations, but Herb. sent a few informal ones as well to his more intimate enemies and bitter friends – "in his most frivolous vein," as Bonar remarked across the despatch box a while ago.  I read some of them, as I happened to be working the blotting pad, and some of the choicest I jotted down –:

"... So come along, my dear David, and eat the leek and the Welsh lamb with us.  I propose to seat you between Lord Hugh and the Bishop of London.  In case you may require the services of the Panel doc. afterwards, you had better bring your card stamped to date."

"May it please your Celtic Majesty – to honour your very obedient (nicht wahr?) servant by accepting the enclosed.  I have arranged for you to take Carson in to supper in order:
'That the feast may be more joyous.
That the time may pass more gaily,
And our guests be more contented.

"As I know your warm Irish spirit, I am taking the precaution to have the murphies mashed."

"...So pull on your slacks, my hearty; heave up your terminological inexactitudes; and then make straight for the port.  I'll see it's decanted."

"...You had better come disguised as an Old Woman in case you're marked down by Hungragettes.  I'll leave the china-pantry window open.  Forcible feeding from 12 to 1."

"...As the Government are standing treat, come and have a little Free Food with us.  None of our side grudge the Law taking his course."

"Dear Keir,
'What cheer!
Come here –
(Free Beer).

"Am specially engaging two seditious hitmutgars to serve the curry."


Some of the replies, too, were equally noteworthy.  Mrs. P, whom I now quote, was not asked, I need hardly say.  But news of the projected party leaked out somehow, and so she got to hear of it –

"Mrs. Pankhurst regrets her inability to accept Mr. Asquith's kind invitation to lead the cotillion with him.  She expects to be detained elsewhere – probably at Holloway.  She hopes, however, to be able to lead him a pretty dance upon some future occasion."

"...Shall look forward to a good time.  I suppose you won't make me move any of my favorite amendments?  Are we going to pay 'snap'?  Yours til the division bell rings, Frederick Banbury."

"Accept with pleasure, but, for goodness' sake don't seat me next to David, as I always carry my Christmas rents in my dress-coat tail pocket.  Any truth in the rumour that you are shortly going to join 'ours'?  Yours ever, Westminster."

"...but it all depends on your Tariff.  Anyhow, father says I may come, so expect me.  Yours orchidly, Austen."

"...with pleasure.  Are you expecting any ladies?  Is so, and Lansbury agrees to look after the 'hers,' I will look after the hymns.  Your devoted admirer, Silvester Horne."

We only had one refusal, and that was from Rosebery.  He's too busy opening Andrew McSkibo's white elephants.  As he himself said, in a charming belle lettre, "for my many sins I am being constantly brought to book."


Well, tandem longa expecta dies erat, as friend Vergil remarked (Aneid, Book VII.).  We had engaged an alleged band of the customary Balkan variety – I've forgotten its distinctive colour – and it played in the reception room whilst the guests were arriving.  The conductor as obviously a bit of a wag, for, when Lloyd George was announced, the band played something in nine-four time.  Then, later, when Sir Rufus Isaacs' name was called, it let go in six-eight time.  Winston's appearance was greeted with strains of "I do like to sit beside the seaside," and Col. Seely entered to "I'm Jones of the Lancers."  Austen Chamberlain had no sooner put his head in the door than "I'm following in father's footsteps" was struck up; and practically every one who was any one was hailed with some opportune melody.  The nobodies were all welcomed by "O you beautiful doll" and you would be surprised at the insight into some of the political characters that the conducter displayed!

However, every one chatted very pleasantly for the best part of an hour, and then a move was made for the supper room.  The chief himself had made the seating arrangements, and when I looked round the table I concluded that, whatever else might happen, things should not be slow.  Some jovial soul had removed Lloyd George's chair, and given him instead the leaf of a table to sit upon.  When he asked why, the room re-echoed with shours of "Panel!"  Opposite to the chief was a dish of prawns in purple, green, and white aspic – quite a happy idea of Benoist's.  In front of Sir Edward Grey there was a large German sausage with "Zeppelin" painted upon it, and by Walter Long's place there was a saveloy enclosed in a muzzle.  At the side of Will Thorne's "cover" there was a bottle of shampoo lotion and a magnum labelled "Mumm's the word."


I have attended a good many supper parties, my dear B., but no pen of mine can describe the hilarious scene at this epoch-making entertainment.  Suffice it to say that it went with a band from start to finish – especially the latter when we all began pulling Christmas crackers, and some astonishingly appropriate head-gear appeared.  The Chief got a paper coronet; Balfour attired himself in a mob cap; and McKenna was the proud wearer of a policeman's helmet.  When D.L.G. unrolled a George Robey type of bowler, he was promptly requested to "talk through it."  Winston was adorned with a kind of navvy's cap, and I heard John Burns tell him it was the only decent-shaped hat he'd ever seen him in.

After this badinage was exhausted – and it took some time – we all adjourned into the reception room again, where we were to have music and games.  Sir Edward Grey and Lord Lansdowne opened the proceedings with a pianoforte duet – a fantasia on "The Watch on the Rhine."  Then Haldane recited an erudite parody commencing: –
"Baa, baa, back sheep, have you any wool?"
"Yes, I have one Wool-sack full."

Keir Hardie "obliged" with one of Amy Woodforde-Finden's "Indian love lyrics," and then Chaplin followed with "I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am."  At the end of this the Chief advanced to the singer carrying the kitchen meat-scales.

"What's that for?" asked Chaplin.

"Seat and weigh," answered H.H. and everybody agreed it was the mot of the evening.


Then a "parlour" putting-green was brought in, and Balfour was asked to give an exhibition of his skill.  Arthur, who's a thorough sport, at once agreed, and the Chief thereupon handed him a ball about three times the regulation size, on which was printed "Free Trade" in big letters.  Arthur vainly tried to putt into the very small hole marked "Tariff Reform," but, of course, the ball was much too large, and, amid much laughter, he surrendered the putter to Bonar Law, who, with great skill, managed to make the ball settle exactly on top of the hole.

Next, a potato race was suggested, and Vernon and I were sent to the kitchen to search for the necessary vegetables.  However, we could only secure a dozen potatoes in all, so we were obliged to commandeer a dozen turnips to make up a sufficient number.  These we distributed down the room at a distance of about 4 ft,. in two parallel rows – potatoes in one, turnips in the other.  Meanwhile, it had been decided that Runciman and John Redmond were to be the competitors, and you can imagine the shout that went up when Runciman, who had to take the turnip line, asked which were the turnips!  The race was most exciting, and ended in a victory for John three up and two to play.

I forget what time the party broke up, but everybody voted the evening a great success.  They heard us singing "For he's a jolly good fellow" down in the Vauxhall Bridge road, we learned afterwards.  I think it did us all good to drop the political mask for once in a way, and to enjoy ourselves like schoolboys home for the holidays.  But next session will find us all playing party games again with the difference that "party" will then be spelt with a big P.

No comments:

Post a Comment