Freudful Myth-Information

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The 1920s, wrote Rose Macaulay in Life among the English (1942), her potted history of English social life, was a decade of booms: ‘There were booms in photography, Sunday film and theatre clubs, surrealism, steel furniture, faintly obscure poetry, Proust, James Joyce, dancing, rink skating, large paintings on walls of rooms.’

There was also a boom in humour: the Jeeves novels of P. G. Wodehouse, the plays of Noël Coward, the Beachcomber columns of J. B. Morton – and then, at the start of the next decade, 1066 and All That (1930), the incomparable comic history book by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman (see Slightly Foxed, No. 16).

After this debut, there was a boom in Sellar and Yeatman. In 1934, 1066 and All That was made into a popular musical, and by 1936, a fellow humorist, Eric Partridge, could note that ‘Sellar and Yeatman’ had already become shorthand for their most famous work. That fame continues today. But their other major contribution to public education at the time – And Now All This (1932) – has been largely forgotten.

The Times reported this ‘equally amusing sequel’ to be one of the ‘Successes of the Season’, bringing the total number of Sellar-and- Yeatmans sold to 100,000 in two years. The ‘Authors’ Impressions’ on the copyright page chart the agonies of writing a follow-up: ‘January 1932: A Good Thing/August 1932: A Bad Thing/October 1932: Anything You Say’. (The title page of 1066 and All That, you may remember, promises ‘103 Good Things’ and ‘5 Bad Kings’.) But according to his obituary in 1968, And Now All This was Yeatman’s favourite of their collaborations.

It is not hard to see why – I sometimes wonder if it isn’t mine too. Sellar and Yeatman’s last two books, still very funny but largely written separately, each focused on a favourite pastime: Horse Nonsense (1934) for the sociable Yeatman and

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About the contributor

Jeremy Noel-Tod teaches English Literature at Queen Mary, University of London, and reviews for the Telegraph and the Times Literary Supplement. He has never intended to eat his grandfather.

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