The B-word

07Jun14

Just got back from collecting copies of the latest book what I wrote. They look smashing.

‘Bravo, Bristol! The City at War 1914-18’ is co-authored by Clive Burlton and me. Even if I say so myself, it’s rather splendid.

It’s actually much easier to brag about things you’ve co-written because of course you’re not claiming all the credit. As a researcher and as expert on the military side, Clive reached parts I couldn’t have hoped to reach. We will be nagging you to buy it more in due course.

‘Course the problem with old-school booky books is that once they’ve gone to the printers you can’t change ’em. And in the case of Bristol’s part in WW1 we’ve been finding out loads of great new stories ever since. So I’ll regale you with a few of them in the coming weeks. Be a pity to lose them.

Here’s the first one:

This concerns a man named John Flynn, who kept a newspaper shop on the Horsefair.

In October 1914, with the war getting under way and people starting to get killed, he was selling leaflets with a short eight-verse poem on them titled ‘A Call to Arms’.

Someone complained that it was obscene and the police paid him a visit. Flynn readily admitted selling the leaflets and handed over his stock of around 1,000 copies.

Police returned some time later with a search warrant, but found no more copies, and no other objectionable material. Nonetheless, the decision was made to charge him with selling indecent materials and he was up before the beaks a few weeks later.

The case turned on whether or not the verse was, in fact, indecent, and this came down to the use, several times in the poem, of a certain word.

Appearing for his defence was the solicitor Edward Watson, a person so amazing we’re going to have to save him for some other time. “E.J.” Watson conceded that the poem was rather coarse and vulgar but, he said, it could not possibly be said to have any corrupting effect. On the contrary, yer honour; it could only arouse patriotic feelings in the reader.

He then quoted various literary passages, including bits of Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, which had used the offending word.

The magistrates dismissed the case, provided Mr Flynn destroy all copies of the leaflet. So we don’t know how the poem went.

But we do know what the rude word was:

“Bloody.”

A whole different world, I tell ya. So different you really ought to remember to buy a book about it when it gets into the shops. That story’s not in it, but there’s plenty of others…

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