Sunday, 15 September 2013

You have been warned

British Library Publishing sent me a copy of a book they have just republished. You Have Been Warned! A Complete Guide to Road was first published in 1935, co-authored by the British Punch cartoonist Fougasse (real name Kenneth Bird, now best known for those wartime ‘Careless talk costs lives’ posters) and Donald McCullough (later to become the avuncular chairman of the BBC’s Brains Trust). A runaway bestseller, it was a comic anthropology of the eccentric behaviour of road users. Fougasse’s cartoon of a driver stretching out his right arm, for instance, was translated as ‘I am going to turn to my right,’ ‘I am going to shake the ash off my cigarette,’ and ‘the house over there with the green door is where our cook’s mother lives’. A wonderfully vague hand signal was translated as ‘‘I am going to TURN to the LEFT or the RIGHT or SLOW down or SKID or STOP or maybe DASH across and ask the WAY from the policeman on POINT duty.’

The book had a semi-official sanction, being published with funds from the National Safety First Association. Scarier safety propaganda was regarded as rather shouty and unEnglish, the kind of in-your-face activity with which the Nazis, who pioneered the national road safety campaign, were associated. Propaganda that focused on the potential for accidents, advised one psychologist, would ‘only produce a dangerous fear in the nervous and timid and would be no deterrent to the exhibitionist’. You Have Been Warned called the new Highway Code ‘the Road-User’s Statute of Liberty and Magna Carta of the Road’.

For a book published nearly 80 years ago, the humour stands up very well – as well, I would say, as another humour classic from the 1930s: Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066 and All That.

No comments:

Post a Comment