Last night, I tuned into BBC Radio 4 to listen to the news program at 10 pm expecting all the latest on the Brexit discussions from Brussels. Just before the news, I caught the tail-end of a discussion (in the program In Our Time, chaired by Melvyn Bragg) about the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).
Now, for whatever reason, a memory was pulled from the deepest recesses of my mind about someone else whose name was Gerard. Beyond that, I couldn’t recall much else. Except that, when I was a small boy, I’d heard ‘Gerard’ telling an amusing story about a man and a brick barrel. I fell asleep none the wiser.
Until this morning that is, when I called on the power of Google to provide me with answers.
I typed in ‘raconteur’ and ’empty brick barrel’, and pressed Enter. And immediately had the answer I was looking for.
I had been thinking about Gerard Hoffnung, artist, musician, and raconteur known for his many humorous stories and recordings.
Hoffnung was born in Germany but grew up in London, having escaped the Nazis. He trained as an artist, became an accomplished musician (the tuba), and a regular contestant on panel games broadcast by the BBC. He is best remembered perhaps for his many humorous recordings, delivered (with an excellent sense of timing that has hardly been bettered) in his inimitable, and rather fruity, style.
Among his most celebrated recordings is his bricklayer’s tale. Thus my Google search for ‘brick barrel’.
And here it is. It must date from around 1958 (when he gave a famous speech to the Oxford Union). Sixty years on, it’s as fresh as then, and when I also first heard it. I sat at my computer this morning, chuckling away, almost tears in my eyes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Here is the full Oxford Union speech as well. The bricklayer’s tale clip is taken from this longer speech.
Sadly, Hoffnung was taken from us at an early age in 1959, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was a one-off.