22 Comments

  1. From the setting and especially the backdrop behind the smug-looking smiley other guy who appears for one second I guess this is a Tom Lehrer performance done in the UK (accounts for the “loo” reference) on the Michael Parkinson show sometime in the 1970s. The smiley guy is, I am pretty sure, Robin Ray, a tv personality, radio executive and quizmaster and also son of the comedian Ted Ray (whose show was called Ray’s A Laugh).

    So googling a bit, I see from imdb that there was an episode of Parkinson with them both on, with Kenneth Williams: Episode #10.5 (1980) – so I was close.

    https://twitter.com/KENNETHWILLlAMS/status/1240577714849042432 is a 1min+ twitter video of Kenneth Williams telling an anecdote on that episode, where you can see Parkinson with Williams, Lehrer and Ray.

    Robin Ray was a knowledge demon about classical music – as it says in Wikipedia, in a 1970s quiz called Face The Music he “was able to recognise pieces of piano music and name not only the piece and the composer but also the opus number, particularly the Köchel or “K” number of pieces by Mozart.” In the early 1990s he “drew up a list of 50,000 pieces of classical music and rated them for popular appeal, which was the basis for the Classic FM playlist.”

    Yay googling. (Though I now see that if I go down the comments, the replies to one of them wondering where the clip came from come up with the same info).

  2. Tom Lehrer also appeared on the David Frost show in England. There was talk at the time of switching from £SD (which is money, not a drug) to decimal currency, so Lehrer adapted his “New Math” song to explain how it would work. https://youtu.be/P_Hb38253Sw

  3. MiB, that was fun! Of course, the weirdness comes from performing conversion, not from the decimal coinage system itself.

    I remember puzzling out what was going on in books and movies from the £SD era. Like an auction scene where one of the bidders at a tense moment stops and asks, Excuse me, are we in pounds or guineas? It seemed so odd but convenient that there was this quick way of hiking things up by 5%. Besides the canonical pounds, shillings, and pence there were things like the aforementioned guineas, and crowns and half-crowns and florins.

    After the change, are the smaller fundamental units now called cents, as Lehrer seems to be saying, or are they again pennies or pence? Is “shilling” widely accepted for, what would it be, 5p? (I recently learned about “cent” as a theoretical unit in micro-tuning.) I gather from current TV that “quid” is still around, for a pound.

    Of course the fundamental oddness was in having the different size units differ by something other than 10. But even we Americans could comprehend this , as we knew about hours-minutes-seconds and degrees-minutes-seconds. (Radians are of course what you need for taking the trig functions as operating on pure numbers.. But it is weirdly fun to see nerdy high-schoolers say things like “Then you make a half-pi-radians turn to your left”.)

  4. Oh, and of course that was why the Beatles’ Taxman expected “one for you nineteen for me”. Even we Americans got that; tho sometimes only after an explanation.

  5. @ Mitch4 – I don’t understand your first three comments, but about £SD: A dozen or so years ago we took a vacation on the Channel Islands; I remember noticing (either in a newspaper or on a sign in front of an office) that professionals there (doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, etc.) still expected their fees in guineas, which was invoiced as £1.05 .

  6. Sorry for the obscurity, I was just linking to work by other famous Agneses.
    Varda’s “Le lion volatil” is just an amusing little 12 minute piece, where she puts images of her cat in place of this sculpture of a lion. I saved a couple stills as screencaps for posting, such as this one.

    The only free links I can find at the moment are 1 minute “previews” on Youtube that don’t show those parts. FWIW: https://youtu.be/3CTLKGGYWp0

  7. According to https://reelgood.com/movie/le-lion-volatil-2003 “Le lion volatil is not streaming nor available to rent or purchase.”

    Well, I know at one time I was able to see it, maybe on disc in a Varda collection. Wait, I had to have seen it on computer, to take those screenshots. Hmm. Some of the links in a search today end up with “Removed for copyriight reasons” so maybe the landscape has changed.

  8. @ Mitch 4 – Americans are also used to feet and inches and the like.

    Horses in Britain are still sold in guineas (£1.05 now instead of 21 shillings), and there are horse races like the 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas.

    My personal example of childhood honesty involves some of these pre-decimal terms. See, as a youngster (nine or so, in 1967) I liked making plastic model aircraft produced by Airfix. The cheapest was 2/3, and one day I walked to the village model shop to get one. But when I tried to pay it turned out the coin I had was a florin when I thought I had a half crown. The man gave me the model and said, never mine, pay me the extra threepence next time you’re in.

    However, we were only in the UK over the summer and I guess this was right at the end of our stay and shortly afterwards we went back home to Beirut for the next nine months or so. So when we showed up again in the summer of 1968 I went down to the model shop and presented my thruppenny bit. By this time the owner had forgotten about me and my debt, but assuming I was telling the truth he let me off the 3d and instead gave me two free tubes of glue, or maybe only one, but anyway worth a tanner, for being honest. So I was excuised 3d and given an extra 6d!

    Key:
    Penny – one twelfth of a shilling
    Shilling – 1/20th of a pound, usually written 1/- , so 7/- for seven shillings, 7/6 for seven shillings and sixpence
    Threepence – three pennies, but pronounced “thruppence”
    Thruppenny bit – a 12-sided coin worth threepence, 3d (a quarter of a shilling)
    Tanner – a small coin worth sixpence, 6d (half a shilling)
    2/3 – two shillings and thrupence (not a coin in itself)
    Florin – a coin worth two shillings, 2/- (a tenth of a pound)
    Half Crown – a coin worth two shillings and sixpence, 2/6 (an eighth of a pound).

    There used to be a crown, 5/-, but apart from commemorative issues (eg death of Winston Churchill) is a coin before my time. When I was a kid there was a ten shilling note, or ten bob note, but that was withdrawn in 1970, even before decimalisation.

    Post-decimalisation, values below a pound were known at first as, for instance, five or 17 “new pence”; eventually the “new” was dropped and it just became five pence, with the words separated and “pence” enunciated in full with a strong e (as I think Mike Pence’s name is). Pre-decimalisation words like sixpence would be pronounced as one word with the e rather swallowed as in sixp’nce. Apparently this is /ˈsɪkspəns/ in IPA according to Wikipedia (with the ə being a weak vowel).

    Usually when talking about the coins we just name them using the rather inelegant “pee” sound, as they are written 5p, 50, 10p, so if dealing with a shopworker and an item is £2.20 and we only have a five pound note we might say “I’ve got the twenty pee if that helps” so we only get three pounds back instead of two pounds and a load of shrapnel.

    The smallest note in common general use now is £5, and the largest is £20. There are £50 notes but they are treated with great suspicion as they have traditionally been heavily forged. Covid-19 has reduced circulation of notes as more shops require card payment only. £1 is only available as coins – the one pound note was withdrawn in 1988. There’s also a £2 coin.

  9. Luxury goods were traditionally priced in guineas, and probably still are if horses are, as narmitaj says. At auctions sometimes someone would say simply “Guineas!” to top the previous bid by 5%. “8 pounds, I hear 8 pounds, do I hear 10?” “10 pounds!” “I hear ten pounds, going once…” “Guineas!” “Ten guineas, going once…”

    And here’s a passage from Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby”:

    The stranger continued. ‘I have been thinking, Mr Squeers, of placing my two boys at your school.’
    ‘It is not for me to say so, sir,’ replied Mr Squeers, ‘but I don’t think you could possibly do a better thing.’
    ‘Hem!’ said the other. ‘Twenty pounds per annewum, I believe, Mr Squeers?’
    ‘Guineas,’ rejoined the schoolmaster, with a persuasive smile.
    ‘Pounds for two, I think, Mr Squeers,’ said Mr Snawley, solemnly.
    ‘I don’t think it could be done, sir,’ replied Squeers, as if he had never considered the proposition before. ‘Let me see; four fives is twenty, double that, and deduct the — while, a pound either way shall not stand betwixt us. You must recommend me to your connection, sir, and make it up that way.’
    ‘They are not great eaters,’ said Mr Snawley.
    ‘Oh! that doesn’t matter at all,’ replied Squeers. ‘We don’t consider the boys’ appetites at our establishment.’ This was strictly true; they did not.

  10. @ narmitaj – Thanks for a tiny little detail that I wish I had known back when I was a kid still reading “Andy Capp”: the nickname “bob” means “shilling” (and not “pound”, as I had assumed back then).

  11. As I recall “bob” was not used for a single shilling – “I lent him a bob” – but only for multiple shillings like five bob (unlike the slang term for pounds, where “I lent him a quid” is fine). I might be wrong in all instances – no doubt someone somewhere used singular bob – though Wikipedia seems to agree: “The word bob was sometimes used for a monetary value of several shillings, e.g. “ten-bob note”.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shilling_(British_coin)

    I once got an appreciative “well-played” from someone on an sf usenet site for deploying a well-known sf bad-style trope in the context of listing various slang and proper names for British money – I said something like “Terms for British money include Quid, Half Crown, Florin, Tanner, Thruppenny Bit and, as you know, Bob”.

    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AsYouKnow

  12. One other note: 2/6 is/was normally pronounced “two and sixpence”, and my understanding is that you wouldn’t say “two bob and sixpence” unless talking about two separate amounts. Though you might say “two bob and a tanner”. My understanding is also that you wouldn’t say “one bob” (and definitely not “a bob”), that amount is “twelvepence”. Not that my understanding is necessarily correct; it’s from overexposure to English writers, not personal experience. I’m sure many foreign agents have blown their cover on such usages.

  13. My understanding (as an American) is that 2/6 is/was normally said as “two and six”. I’ve read that during the war, at least one German spy was found when he was buying train tickets. He was told something like “two and six” and paid two pounds and six shillings.

  14. And what was the mistake made by one of the English escapees boarding a bus in The Great Escape? Some sort of automatic polite response..

    There was a bit I ran across in a retro comic set in WWII times overseas in a strip I did not regularly follow, maybe Terry and the Pirates, and this I read sometime before I moved to Chicago. Some foreign agent pretending to be an American said he was from Chicago, and our protagonist caught him not knowing which direction State Street runs. Later , living here, I remembered this when for some reason it came up to checki if there are a lot of roads that violate the generalization that Avenues are NS and Streets are EW.

  15. Mitch, it’s probably easier to catch spies because they DO know things Americans don’t actually know, like all the words to America the Beautiful or what the 19th Amendment is.

    I have a relative who grew up in New York City and can’t remember that 7th Avenue runs N/S

  16. Especially these days, as cities get larger, you could have someone “from” a city who is not familiar with downtown having rarely been there.

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