Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Borat and Bromige: Further Adventures

David Bromige gets the last word in our roundtable on humor and poetry in the new Jacket, edited by Pam Brown. In a backchannel note to me this week, he expanded a little on his time at the private Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School near London, which also includes among its old boys Sacha Baron Cohen, of Borat fame, and historian Simon Schama. (The school was established, sublimely enough, by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, one of the livery companies of the city of London, and has been running in one form or another since 1690.)

In our discussion at Jacket I'd mentioned that Haberdashers’ seems to be "a factory of comedy," chockablock with verbally (and comically) aggressive Jews, at least to hear Baron Cohen tell it, and indeed, according to the Sunday Times, the student body today is "a third Hindu, a third Jewish and a third Christian." When David arrived in 1945, however, he was not only a scholarship student but a WASP. "There were a lot of Jews," he says in his note (quoted with permission), "but perhaps there are more than there were in my time."

Of his comment in Jacket that Haberdashers' in his day was more "a factory of depression" than one that churned out comedians, as its young instructors were being killed off in the war, he says now that "It was really only snobbery to say that it was always dull."

He goes on: "I liked Cohen in Borat. His humor quite reminded me of Haberdashers' humor in my own time."

On the POETICS list he once wrote of those days, "The other boys might well make fun of how one spoke, a mocking that could readily be extended to one's background and antecedents. So it is by such means that a lad can lose his native woodnotes wild and be fetched into the fold of privilege."

Who else can write a sentence like that last one? His POETICS post of 24 April 1999 is signed:

David (was DIvid until Haberdashers' Aske's got their clause into my vocables.)


Tony Green said...

My father was at Haberdashers early 1920s - he was only intersted in football & cricket & that's about all he did there. Maybe it was easily accessible for Jews in the rag trade - which my grandfather was - also conveniently placed for NW London where many Jews lived. 2 of his older brothers were at UCS & ran into some anti-semitism there. best Tony Green

Rachel Loden said...

Hi Tony! That's interesting--according to Rolling Stone "Baron Cohen's father, from Wales, owned a clothing store in Piccadilly Circus." So the connection to Jews and haberdashery is (apparently) still very much in force.

I found this footnote in a book called The Lady Tasting Tea: how statistics revolutionized science in the twentieth century, by David S. Salsburg:

"The Haberdashers' Aske's School is one of seven schools founded by the Haberdashers' Company, an ancient livery company (incorporated in 1448). Robert Aske, Past Master of the Haberdashers' Company, died in 1689, leaving a bequest (to this day managed by the company) for the founding of a school for twenty sons of poor Haberdashers...."