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3:26pm on Saturday, 1st July, 2006:

From 1934


Today, I put on my web site the funniest 50 pages of a book that I have ever read. It's School Yarns and Howlers, by Frank M. Richmond, and it was written in 1934. "Written " is perhaps the wrong word: "collected " is more accurate. The book consists of about 60 pages of humorous stories of school life, followed by a few pages jokes (Mother. "Well, Tommy, how are you getting on at school? " Tommy. "Splendid, mother; even the master says he cannot teach me anything. "). The remaining 50 pages — the ones I've scanned — are the howlers.

They're incredible.

Howlers are things that pupils/students give as answers to questions, in which they reveal either their complete misunderstanding or their total lack of knowledge of the subject. These may be from 1934, but ye gods, they're funny. I've seen some of them quoted in newspaper articles this year, they're so enduring. Not all are, obviously, and some fall a little flat; the interesting thing, though, is that they're almost designed to fall flat, so you think maybe the book is past its peak, then WHAM! You get something utterly glorious. The way they're presented, so you keep wanting to turn the page, is such a factor in the way the book works that it's why I'm showing images of the page rather than OCRed text; a list of one-liners just wouldn't do it justice.

Here are the first two, which are separate from the others, so you know what sort of material it is:

Set aside half an hour, and read it all the way through. You might find that you don't think it's all that amusing to start with, but stick with it. I've seen my wife with tears of laughter streaming down her face while reading this book — that's never happened with anything else. I realise I'm giving it quite a build-up here, so am setting myself up for a fall if you don't like it, but ... well just read it. If you think it's a dud, sorry; if you find it even half as funny as I do, you'll be telling your friends to read it, too.

I inherited School Yarns and Howlers from my paternal grandfather, who close to the end of his life gave it to my mother because she almost choked with laughter reading it. He'd have been about 20 when it came out.

By pure coincidence, while I was scanning this my elder daughter discovered that my younger daughter had, in her history homework for this weekend, written: "Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon because she could not consume another child".

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).