Reviewed by FRANK DAVEY
THE best of Beachcomber this is a proud boast, when there is so much that is superlatively good to choose from. And Beachcomber has been a national institution ever since I. B. Morton succeeded his old friend and fellow-humourist, D. B. Wyndham Lewis, on the "By the Way" column in the Daily Express nearly forty years ago.
This hook is a tribute to a veteran from one of the best of our newer humorous writers. Mr. Frayn provides an excellent introduction part biography, part appreciation. He points out that Mr. Morton is a Catholic
"He was received into the Church in 1922, and came to know Hilaire Belloc through his friendship with Belloc's son Peter. I think one would know Mr. Morton was a Catholic from reading him, even without any direct reference.
"There is an echo in his work of that tone of voice, bard to describe
yet curiously distinctive, which sounds through a great many of the English Catholic writers.
"Perhaps it is a certain intellectual perverseness. I find it can become irritating, particularly when it takes the form, as it does, not in Morton, but in Chesterton and Graham Greene, of a galloping obsession with paradox.
"In Mr. Morton you can just catch a suggestion of it. like the salt in porridge, and I suppose. like the porridge, his work wouldn't be the same without it."
Mr. Frayn has made an excellent job of selection, out of no fewer than eighteen previous collections of the Beachcomber canon.
They are all here: Dr. Strabismus (Whom God Preserve) of Utrecht, Mrs. Wretch, Dr. SmartAlba of Narkover. Captain Foulenough, Lady Cabitanleigh. Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot, the Wagnerian prima donna Rustiguzzi, the poet Roland Milk-all those figures of fun and satire who have endeared themselves to us over the years.
Nor has Mr. Morton ever been above a dig at his fellow-journalists. I quote from an item "Fleet Street Fashions": "The new drinking hats arc very popular. The wide brim gives privacy, and the sweeping tion-up in front allows the face to sink easily into the tankard."