A language-focused episode looking at words and phrases that you often see and hear in advertising and sales situations. Also includes discussion of sales techniques, Apple’s sales and marketing strategy and also a classic bit of stand-up by the late great George Carlin.
Here is an episode with Paul all about the subject of advertising and sales, with a bit of marketing thrown in there too. So this is a language-focused episode looking at words and phrases that you often see and hear in advertising and sales situations. It also includes discussion of sales techniques, Apple’s sales and marketing strategy and also a classic bit of stand-up by the late great George Carlin.
The episode starts with a discussion between Paul and me about Paul’s experiences of working in sales jobs at Apple, including selling their products to customers on the shop floor and how Apple markets its products to people. Then we go through a big list of words and phrases relating to sales situations in various ways, including the typical things you might read on packaging, advertising or sales material. The list is pretty long but it all leads up to the comedy sketch at the end, which includes all the phrases. That comedy bit, by the way, does contain some very rude language, so there’s a heads up if that’s not your cup of tea.
So get your vocabulary learning hat on for this episode and also let’s get stuck into the topic of sales and advertising, with Paul.
Positive or Negative?
You’re interested in buying a new product (e.g. a fantastic portable tumbler, or some Southwest Pacific Air). You look at the sales literature for the item and see some of these phrases and conditions. Are they positive or negative?
all sales are final
allow six weeks for delivery
no purchase necessary
batteries not included
each item sold separately
free home trial
and free parking
no cash? no problem!
Leather / leather-style
limited time only
mileage may vary
no down payment
no entry fee
no hidden charges
no payments or interest until September
no one will call on you
no red tape
offer good while supplies last
send no money
so act now
some assembly required
some items not available
some restrictions may apply
two to a customer
So that was Sales and Advertising with Paul.
As usual, let me know your thoughts relating to this episode.
What do you think of sales and advertising?
Do you work in sales? Have you noticed any particular techniques or use of language that helps you sell things?
What do you think of adverts on TV or the way things are promoted to you on the internet?
How do you feel about clickbait? Do you ever click on those articles?
Do you think graffiti is ok in public places? How is that different to advertising in the sense that we don’t get any choice over what is displayed to us in public? What about drawing graffiti on advertising that’s in public spaces?
The subject of sales, advertising and marketing is a big one and I expect to come back to it on the podcast at some point because there’s loads of things we could do with that.
Business English is always something that I’ve saved and never done on the podcast. I was always planning to do a business English podcast or a business English course, but without calling it a business English course, because people don’t seem to like the word business. It sounds all heavy and dark, like the dark side or the Death Star or something. But English in professional situations is really interesting and I’m talking about things like how we negotiate, how we deal with being diplomatic in meetings, how we do presentations and socialise with people. I was actually working on a business course and have loads of unfinished material for it. I must go back to that but in the meantime I might dip into some more businessy subjects in the future. We will see. But let me know about your interest in business English and if you’d like to learn the ways of the dark side and fulfil your destiny and all that stuff.
But for now, it’s pretty much time for the end of the episode. Thank you for listening as usual.
If the spirit moves you, you could leave me a lovely lovely review on iTunes or apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Getting positive reviews helps to promote my podcast on those platforms. It’s more likely to end up in recommended selections and things like that, so it helps the podcast a great deal.
Otherwise, you can always donate with one of the yellow paypal buttons, sign up to LEP Premium at www.teacherluke.co.uk/premium and check out my sponsors italki at www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk
You’ve been listening to Luke’s English Podcast and until next time, good bye bye bye bye…
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Here is another episode of this podcast for people learning English.
This time we are dissecting the frog again as we are going to be looking at top jokes from this year’s Ed Fringe. I’m going to read all the jokes to you and then dissect them for vocabulary which can help you learn English really effectively.
Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You can learn something from it, but the frog dies in the process.
So let’s dissect the frog again!
A challenge for you:
Can you understand the jokes the first time you hear them?
Can you repeat the jokes, with the right timing, intonation and stress, to make the joke funny?
The Culture of Joke-Telling in English
Remember, when someone tells you a joke there are certain normal responses you should make. You shouldn’t give no reaction.
You have to show that you see that a joke has happened. Don’t just give no reaction or respond to the question on face value.
So when someone tells you a joke, you have to show that you’ve noticed it.
go “awwww” or something
Say “I don’t get it”
Heard it before
You also have to respond to certain jokes in certain ways.
Knock knock – who’s there?
Any kind of question, especially “What do you call a…?” or “What do you get if you cross xxx with yyy?”
You answer: I don’t know. Then the answer is the punchline.
Jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe 2019
I did one of these last year – episode 547. A whole year has gone by. So I did 64 episodes of the podcast, plus all the premium ones. Quite a productive year for LEP!
Right now stand up comedians all over the UK are having a welcome break and a chance to think about how their Edinburgh run was and what they can learn from it.
The rest of us are reading articles in the press about the best jokes from this year’s fringe, and which new comedians to look out for over the coming year or two.
What’s the Edinburgh Fringe again? (I’ve talked about it a lot on the podcast. Never actually been there.)
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (also referred to as The Fringe or Edinburgh Fringe, or Edinburgh Fringe Festival) is the world’s largest arts festival, which in 2018 spanned 25 days and featured more than 55,000 performances of 3,548 different shows in 317 venues. Established in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival, it takes place annually in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the month of August. It has been called the “most famous celebration of the arts and entertainment in the world” and an event that “has done more to place Edinburgh in the forefront of world cities than anything else.
It is an open access (or “unjuried“) performing arts festival, meaning there is no selection committee, and anyone may participate, with any type of performance. The official Fringe Programme categorises shows into sections for theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music, spoken word, exhibitions and events. Comedy is the largest section, making up over one-third of the programme and the one that in modern times has the highest public profile, due in part to the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
Every year hundreds of stand up comedians go to the Fringe to do their shows. It is a sort of make-or-break experience.
Have you ever done it Luke? What’s it like?
I did something about different joke types in the last one of these episodes. I talked about things like “pull back and reveal” and “then I got off the bus”.
Here are about 5 different joke types, or stand-up techniques.
Puns (word jokes) – one word or phrase means two things at the same time, maybe because one word can sound like two words – homophones. [Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7, 8, 9. —> “8” sounds exactly like “ate”]
Pull back and reveal – the situation radically changes when we get more information. [My wife told me: ‘Sex is better on holiday.’ That wasn’t a nice postcard to receive.” Joe Bor 2014]
Observational humour – noticing things about everyday life that we all experience, but haven’t put into words yet. [What’s the deal with airline food, right?]
Similes – Showing how two things are similar in unexpected and revealing ways. [Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog…]
Common phrases, reinterpreted. This time it seems that most of the jokes are based on well-known common phrases and how they could mean something else if you change the context. It’s like a pun but for a whole phrase. [Conjunctivitis.com – now there’s a site for sore eyes. Tim Vine]
The top 10 jokes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019 have been announced, with comedian Olaf Falafel taking the coveted top spot. Check out the full list below.
After previous triumphs from the likes of Tim Vine, Stewart Francis and Zoe Lyons, Falafel scooped the prize with a snappy vegetable themed one-liner.
He took ‘Dave’s Funniest Joke Of The Fringe’ with the gag:
1. “I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.
Florets are chunks of broccoli or cauliflower
Tourette’s is a condition in which people shout out the rudest and most taboo thing in any situation, particularly stressful ones.
The two words sound quite similar.
It’s not the best joke in my opinion.
What makes a really good joke?
If it’s a pun, it should work both ways.
You’re looking at a sentence that means two things at the same time. Ideally, both of those things will make overall sense.
“I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.
So, one sense here is that he has a type of tourette’s which only involves shouting out broccoli and cauliflower. That makes sense, sort of.
But the other meaning doesn’t. Why would he be randomly shouting out the words broccoli and cauliflower if he had some florets in his hand?
So, for me it doesn’t quite work.
Here’s a joke that works both ways
I broke my finger last week. On the other hand, I’m ok.
On the other hand means “But” (the whole sentence still makes sense) He broke his finger but overall he’s ok.
On the other hand means “literally on his other hand” (the whole sentence makes sense again) He broke his finger on one hand, but his other hand is ok.
“I keep randomly shouting out ‘Broccoli’ and ‘Cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets”.
It came from Falafel’s show It’s One Giant Leek For Mankind, which was performed at the Pear Tree.
The comic, who won with 41% of the vote, claims to be “Sweden’s 8th funniest” comedian. He also works as an acclaimed children’s book author.
(This is like a democratic election in which the one that 59% of people (the majority) didn’t vote for, is the one that’s picked.)
Falafel said: “This is a fantastic honour but it’s like I’ve always said, jokes about white sugar are rare, jokes about brown sugar… demerara.”
(How is that like winning this list?🤷♂️)
Check out the rest of the top ten below.
2.”Someone stole my antidepressants. Whoever they are, I hope they’re happy” – Richard Stott
Listen to a lovely bit of stand up comedy that will require quite a lot of breaking down in order for you to understand all the jokes like a native speaker, but there’s lots to learn in the way of language and culture in the process.
This is LEP episode 610. and it’s called British Comedy: James Acaster.
In this one we’re going to listen to a lovely bit of stand up comedy that will require quite a lot of breaking down in order for you to understand all the jokes like a native speaker, and there’s lots to learn in the way of language and culture in the process.
James Acaster is a popular stand up comedian from the UK who has won various awards, done Netflix specials, Edinburgh shows and who appears on panel shows and TV comedy programmes all the time. He’s now a very popular and well-known stand up in the UK.
I’ve got a clip of one of his performances from the New Zealand Comedy Gala in 2013 on YouTube.
I’m going to play the video in about two parts.
You have to try to understand it – not just what he’s saying, but why is it funny?
Then I’ll go back through the clip, sum it up, go through it line by line, breaking it down for language.
You can then listen again using the video on the page for the episode.
Who is James Acaster? (Wikipedia) James Acaster is an English comedian originally from Kettering, Northamptonshire. (accent?) He has performed for several consecutive years at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and won two Chortle awards in 2015. He has been nominated for Best Show five times at the Edinburgh Fringe. Acaster has appeared on several panel shows, including Mock the Week and Would I Lie to You? He has a 2018 Netflix show entitled Repertoire, consisting of four hour-long stand-up comedy performances. He has also written a book, James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes, consisting of true stories, most of which were originally told on Josh Widdicombe’s show on XFM. He currently hosts panel show Hypothetical alongside Widdicombe and food podcast Off Menu with fellow comedian Ed Gamble.
He’s originally from Northamptonshire which is in the east midlands. He doesn’t have a strong northern accent or a brummie accent, although I do think he would say “podcast” instead of “podcast” and “bath, grass, laugh” with that short a sound too.
The main thing is that he drops all his “T” sounds and also “TH” sounds.
So, “bring them” sounds like “bring em”
“Sitting in a tree, eating all the apples” sounds like “si’in in a tree, ea’in all the apples”
“Theft” becomes “Feft”
He also says “Raver” instead of “rather”.
All very common features of local English – dropping Ts and TH sounds is common all over the country.
What is his comedy style?
Whimsical (unusual, strange and amusing)
Thinking of things in a different way, unconventional (quite normal in stand up)
Acting a bit cool even though he isn’t
Geeky looking, wears sweaters, clothes even a granddad might wear
Looks a bit like Jarvis Cocker
James bought some ‘ready-to-eat Apricots’ and he went on a lads’ night out
You get these bags of fruit in the UK (and elsewhere I’m sure) of fruit which is ready to eat.
It’s been cut up, washed, prepared. It’s ready to eat.
For example, you might get “ready-to-eat apricots”. That’s what James is talking about here.
Also, the expression ”You are what you eat?”
Play the clip:What’s the joke about apricots?
Stop and explain it
What kind of apricots are these?
They are ready-to-eat apricots.
How do you feel?
I feel ready. Ready to eat apricots.
In fact, you could say I was ready to eat these ready-to-eat apricots.
Maybe you’re not ready to eat apricots.
Maybe you just want some, which is why they’re in a resealable bag.
So, they should be renamed ready-to-eat-some-apricots.
A lads’ night out / You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard
James went on a night out with a bunch of lads.
For James, this was not an enjoyable night.
It wouldn’t be for me either. I’ve never been one of those guys who likes to go out on a lads’ night out.
Lets me explain what a lads’ night out is like.
Lads are usually English young men, together, doing male things and generally being aggressive, overly sexual, crude, rude and competitive.
Lots of alpha male behaviour
Taking the piss and general one-upmanship and aggressive, laddish, competitive behaviour
Spending time in bars and clubs that you hate but they think are brilliant (terrible, terrible music, awful people, loud, smelly, horrible)
Trying to pick up girls and the general lack of a moral code – cheating, lying, using alcohol – all in an attempt to get lucky with a girl. This includes cheating on your girlfriend if you have one.
Medieval-level sexual politics – being openly judgemental about women’s appearances, giving women marks out of ten, saying whether or not you would shag any of the women around, looking at their bodies and comparing notes etc.
You get sucked into it through peer pressure and become part of it even though you hate it.
One of the lads, who has a girlfriend and yet plans to pick up a girl at the club, when asked why he didn’t bring his girlfriend, says “You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard”
An orchard is a place where apples are grown. It’s full of trees and there are apples everywhere. You might pay to access the orchard and pick the apples.
You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard. Presumably because you wouldn’t need to bring one because there are loads there anyway.
How about bringing your girlfriend to a night club. Is it the same?
This leads James to kind of question the logic of that statement and go off an a monologue about bringing an apple to an orchard and how that compares to bringing your girlfriend to a nightclub.
To be an accessory to something (like a crime)
An apple a day keeps the doctor away
Play the clip:Do you understand all the comedy about the nightclub and bringing an apple to an orchard?
Stop and explain it
Going to a nightclub with a bunch of lads
One of them cheats on his girlfriend and you become an accessory to it, like it’s a crime and now you’ve become pulled into it. You’re involved in it, without intending to be, and you could go down, like you’re an accessory to a crime.
In this sense, you just have to keep a secret, you’re being expected to lie on behalf of someone else. The guy is a twat basically.
This lad says “You wouldn’t bring an apple to an orchard”.
But then James deconstructs this analogy in a brilliant way.
This is nuanced comedy which is subtly making fun of stupid lad culture in a clever and funny way, with some weirdness and surrealism.
Go through it line by line
One of the reasons I like it is that a lot of people might just say James is being weird and that he’s some sort of loser, but he’s absolutely right in my opinion and he’s just clever and not afraid to be himself and he embraces the slightly weird things in life, because let’s face it, life is weird.
Types of humour / how nuanced & subtle humour can be all about changing the context of the situation in order to reveal new perspectives.
This acknowledges the fact that there are many different perspectives or layers to any situation and a good comedian can make you realise a whole different underlying meaning by just changing one bit of perspective.
Despite the fact that I like this a lot and so do many other people, I’m sure plenty of others don’t find it funny because it’s not fast enough, there aren’t enough dynamic changes (he doesn’t change his voice a lot, a lot of the jokes are left to the audience’s imagination), it’s pretty low energy, maybe little things like (I can’t get into it – I just don’t like his hair cut or his shoes or something) and also some people just don’t really want to look at the world from a different point of view. Some people prefer more direct humour, perhaps with a more obvious target or more relatable things, like observational comedy or something.
As usual, I’m worrying that nobody will get it, but what’s the point of that? Some people just won’t get it because “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.
And it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t find it funny, that’s totally fine. At least you’ve learned some English in the process. :)
They say “you are what you eat”
A resealable bag
A lads’ night out
Check out the arse on that
Normal people perv solo
To outnumber someone
A dented suitcase
To cheat on someone
An accessory to a crime
Eloquent use of language
A little bit miffed
This godforsaken pisshole of an orchard
Who in their right mind compares women to apples?
Another saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”
Here’s another short clip of James Acaster, this time talking about Brexit and comparing it to a tea bag in a cup.
Should you take the bag out or leave it in?
James Acaster Brexit Tea Bag
Now explain that Luke!
Tea / Brexit
Should you leave the bag in or not?
If the bag stays in, the cup as a whole gets stronger. It might look like the bag is getting weaker in some way but it’s actually part of a good strong cup of tea.
If you take the bag out, the tea is actually quite weak, and the bag goes straight in the bin.
Do I even need to explain how that analogy works with Brexit?
Should the UK stay in or go out?
If the UK remains, the EU as a whole gets stronger. It might look like the UK is getting weaker in some way, but it’s actually part of a good strong union of nations.
If the UK leaves, the EU gets weaker and the UK goes straight in the bin.
Quite clever really.
You can watch James Acaster clips on YouTube.
You can see his Netflix specials “Repertoire” on Netflix
You can read his book “Classic Scrapes” from any half-decent book shop.
James and Luke go on an accidental road trip in the south-west of England and record a rambling podcast, while slowly going a bit mad. Will they make it to their destination before sunset? Listen to find out what happens and to learn some words and culture in the process. Photos below.
Where?The Fitzroy Tavern, 16 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2LY (near Oxford Street/Tottenham Court Road) When?Sunday 28 July from 2PM (and probably continuing into the afternoon) Who?English teacher Zdenek Lukas is the host and all LEPsters (and non-LEPsters) are welcome! Also, Luke might be there with his brother and friends. Email email@example.com to let him know you’re coming. Come to chat, meet people, play board games in English and have fun!
Episode Introduction (after the jingle)
Hello, welcome back to the podcast everyone, I hope you’re all doing well and having a nice summer or winter depending on which hemisphere you are currently residing in.
I am currently in the middle of a very busy teaching schedule – teaching classes all day every day this week and next week, and of course in the evenings I’m looking after my daughter and dealing with all the usual aspects of life in general. So, I have not had a lot of time to work on podcast episodes. That’s why there’s been a delay and that might continue for a few more weeks, we’ll see. But here’s a new episode!
There are actually loads of things I’d like to talk about, including the fact that England are now World Cup winners – yes, we won the World Cup for the first time ever, so it finally came home! I’m not talking about football of course, nope – I’m talking about cricket (yes, that still counts! It’s still a big deal because let me remind you that it is the world’s second most popular spectator sport.) Yes, England are the champions of the world. Those of you who come from cricket-playing countries will know exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone else will probably be confused. And don’t you dare compare it to baseball. Anyway, England won the cricket in dramatic fashion, beating New Zealand in an incredibly close game which went right down to the wire. I’m not going to talk about it in this episode actually, but I did want to mention it because of course I am very proud and I’ve had plenty of requests from listeners in places like India and Pakistan who want me to talk about it. I’ll see if I can cover it in an upcoming episode. If you can’t wait and you want some cricket chat on the podcast, you could always listen to episode 473 in the archive which is a conversation with my dad all about cricket.
But anyway, this episode is all about an unexpected road trip that I went on with my brother recently.
Last week, I was on holiday with my family. We travelled to England and actually I did manage to record two episodes while I was there. This is the first one and it was completely unplanned and recorded on my brother’s phone during various parts of a long and quite frustrating day that we spent near the end of the holiday.
In fact, this episode is a sort of road trip diary, recorded on the road with James.
In this episode you will be able to hear…
Exactly what happened when I got a flat tyre while driving back from the holiday. A tyre is the rubber part of the wheel of a car or bike, in this case car – the black rubber part of the wheel which is full of air. So I got a flat tyre, which is where the tyre (or inner tube inside the tyre) gets punctured and all the air comes out. In fact I got two flat tyres in the same week, which I think is really unlucky. Anyway, the second one caused my brother and me to end up having to go on an unexpected journey through the lanes and roads of Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. On the way we recorded a series of rambling conversations covering the details of our trip and lots of other topics, and that is what you’re going to listen to.
So why don’t you join us on our accidental road trip and listen to us rambling on about…
The specific problem with the car, what happened and how it could be repaired
Different words and expressions for feeling angry (because I was very angry with the situation, certainly at the beginning, although you can’t really hear it in my voice because I’m so cool, calm and collected)
The dangers of drinking strong coffee and the phenomenon of “coffee rage”
The film Robocop and the 2014 Robocop Reboot (a very random tangent)
How and why cars might pull each other at nightclubs
Going insane while waiting to be rescued by roadside assistance
Different types of pub, including how to pick the right pub for a drink in England
The taste of beer, and different types of beer that you can get
A close encounter with a famous TV comedian at a motorway service station somewhere near Bristol
Fascinating details of the sandwiches that we bought to help sustain us on our adventure
The topic of going vegan or at least just eating less meat, and why eating meat is said to be bad for the environment
How to actually spell and pronounce the names of some English cities and counties on our trip, including Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Worcester, Worcestershire, Warwick and Warwickshire.
All that and more, coming up in this very rambling episode, spontaneously recorded on James’ mobile phone.
Listen on to find out all the details and to hear the voices of some other members of my family at the end, and by the way there is some strong language (swearing), the sound quality might not be up to the usual high standard because it was recorded on a mobile phone (but I think it’s ok) and also there is a lot of slightly mad rambly nonsense coming up – but I think you’ve probably come to expect that sort of thing from this podcast haven’t you?
YES WE HAVE LUKE – LET’S START!
Hello and welcome back to Luke’s English Podcast. How are you? It’s boiling hot here. We’re in the middle of a heat wave and today the temperature is expected to be in the high 30s with a feels-like temperature somewhere in the 40s.
I’ve never understood that. So the temperature is 39 but it feels like 43. So isn’t the temperate 43 then? I don’t get it.
In any case, it is boiling. So if at some point I stop talking, you hear a thud and the podcast goes silent – don’t worry, I’ve just passed out from heat stroke or exhaustion or something. Just joking, but it is very hot.
These aren’t exactly perfect conditions, but my dauntless British spirit is unbowed by any crisis, as we heard in the last episode, so I will be just fine, thank you.
I wonder how it is where you are.
Now, enough idle chit chat, let’s on to this episode.
This is episode 602 and it’s the second part of this episode I’m doing about British comedy TV show “The Day Today”.
You should listen to part 1 before listening to this, and also know that there are notes, videos and bits of transcription on the page for this episode on my website. Just go to teacherluke.co.uk and check the episode archive where you will find all the other episode pages, plus some bonus website-only content too.
In the first part of this episode I talked to you about The Day Today – what kind of programme it is, who made it and so on. Then we listened to three clips from that show which you can find on YouTube and then I broke them down for language and to help you understand the humour.
That’s exactly what we’re going to continue doing in this episode. I have 3 more clips, available on YouTube, so let’s do it like this:
First I’ll talk to you about the clip we’re going to see, explaining the context, giving you the main details and asking you to listen out for certain things. This part is necessary because it will really help you understand the reference points and bits of humour that you might otherwise miss.
Then we’ll listen again bit by bit and I’ll explain specific things including phrases or other features of English
Hopefully through this process you will understand and appreciate the humour and you’ll also pick up some English in the process.
Just a reminder – The Day Today is a parody news programme. None of the stories we’re going to hear about is real. It’s all completely made up parody for comedy purposes. This show makes fun of the conventions and clichés of TV news and current affairs programmes, and does it with a weird and surreal twist.
Also, I want to appeal to you to write to me about these episodes. Whenever I do episodes about comedy I wonder what people are thinking. Part 1 of this is doing well in terms of listens, but in terms of comments there are only a couple on the website and I’ve received maybe one email about this, so I’d like to appeal to you to get into the comments section. As a teacher in a classroom and a stand up comedian in a comedy club I get instant feedback on what I’m saying and doing. On the podcast it’s not like that. I record episodes, publish them and then I have no idea beyond just a few numbers, what people think. So, write to me and let me know what you think of this. Do you understand it all? Does it entertain you or disturb you? What are you thinking? Let me know.
Get The Day Today DVD Box Set on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Today-Complete-BBC-Disc/dp/B000171RU4/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+day+today&qid=1560774228&s=gateway&sr=8-1
OK, so let’s carry on with the first of our three clips.
It’s your blood – “Chopper of Doom” 22:30 (Episode 1)
This is from a feature called “It’s your blood” which is exactly like those old TV shows that told stories of bad accidents and how the emergency services responded to them. We used to have a show called 999 which was exactly the same as this.
They always used reconstructions with actors to remake the accident, and they were very cheaply done with the victims telling the story with a voice over. The presenter was Michael Buerk (again) and he had a certain kind of tone which was serious and stern with a patronising edge as if to say “If you’re stupid enough not to take precautions then you deserve to have an accident” perhaps with a little pause, looking at the camera to say “Don’t be an idiot”.
A little snippet of 999 (12:00)
Listen out for the stern, dramatic and slightly patronising tone of it. Also, it’s presenting itself as a public safety broadcast but really it’s just stories of bad accidents reconstructed for our entertainment.
So this is a little clip from BBC 999. (12:00)
On the Day Today it was called It’s Your Blood.
“Every week on It’s your blood we feature an actual bad accident”.
It’s a parody of that kind of show. Did you have shows like that in your countries? Someone tells the true story of a bad accident that they had and then it’s reconstructed using actors and sometimes the real ambulance workers themselves, who are always terrible actors.
In this clip, the accident is that a farmer flies his helicopter above some fields, but passes out while flying. The helicopter is dangerously out of control in the sky and might crash on some children. Luckily the farmer’s dog is in the helicopter, so the authorities manage to save the situation with the help of a local shepherd who whistles to the dog through the CB radio, instructing him how to land the plane, which he does.
If you’re not listening carefully you could easily miss the fact that the dog is the one that lands the plane, because everything is told in such a serious way. The dog even has a voice over at one point as it explains what it was like to fly in the helicopter.
Listen out for
How Chris Morris ramps up the drama by suggesting that the blades of a helicopter could easily kill humans “Helicopters, machines for cutting air, air that’s soft and easy to slice, like human beings.”
The perhaps unnecessary levels of drama, violence and suspense in the retelling of the story
Making the reconstruction had ethical questions because it forced the victims to face their ordeal again
“All bodily fluids are the ones that actually emerged at the time.” Ridiculous and impossible, but somehow exactly the kind of thing they’d say on a show like this. For example, the first 20 seconds of the real BBC 999 show.
The way he says “For this reason and many others, you may find that the following sequence produces a very powerful sensation in your brain and body” Listen out for how he says the final line “a very powerful sensation in your brain and body” in a kind of tragic way because it involved an actual bad accident. They could just not show this, but for some reason it’s their duty to show it and for us to watch it because a man had an accident and we shouldn’t do it too.
The voice over from the sheepdog Lindsay “It was smooth and exhilarating like an aerial motorbike” – that’s the sheepdog actually speaking in voice over
Question: What causes the farmer to pass out?
The local resident who takes 10 minutes to call for help because she’s too busy filming the disaster on her camcorder
Does the story end on a positive note or a negative note?
Clip begins at 22:30
A treat – give a treat to someone, promise someone a treat, get a treat for doing something, to deserve a treat, give a dog a treat A memento – I decided to video it for him as a memento Perilous – the helicopter was perilously out of control To head towards something – the chopper was heading towards a field, heading for a field
REDUNDANCY (Peter O Hanrahanrahan) 5:05 (Episode 6)
Economics Correspondent Peter O Hanrahahanrahan is back. This time the story is that General Motors in Detroit have laid off some workers at their factory.
Some language A factory / a plant To lay someone off / to make someone redundant
How many workers have been laid off? Peter O Hanrahahanrahan has the story, live in Detroit. The thing is, he’s got the wrong number.
Chris Morris presses him on this, forcing him to embarrass himself by showing his notes, which have a doodle of a spider in a spider’s web in the corner of the page.
Chris tells Peter off like he’s a naughty schoolboy.
Listen out for
Peter’s conviction at the moment that this is “Mass redundancy on an unprecedented scale”
How Chris shows his scepticism over Peter’s number.
How Peter quickly admits that he’s wrong when Chris asks to see his notes.
“You’re lying in a news grave” …what does it say on the gravestone? …news
Clip begins at 5:05
The POOL (Coogan’s bit) 24:21
This is from a spoof fly on the wall documentary about a municipal swimming pool in London and the people that work there.
You know that kind of thing – a camera crew follow people around their working life and reveal little human dramas that go on and tell the story of people in their ordinary lives in their own words.
In this one we’re at a swimming pool and we’re following some of the staff there. We see footage of the staff interacting, dealing with problems. We see what it’s really like to work at a swimming pool. There used to be a lot of shows like this on TV, and they spawned parodies like The Office. The bit I want to look at is Steve Coogan as the pool’s security guard. He’s playing a much older man and it’s pure Peter Cook. It’s a great little comedy character that we have never seen again.
He’s the security guard at the pool and he describes his work including several incidents like when a pigeon got into the pool once. It seems his working life is extremely boring and mundane, but then we learn that one year a person was killed at the pool and there’s a question of whether the security guard is somehow responsible for this. I love the way he responds to the suggestion that he’s liable for the person’s death.
Listen out for
Coogan’s tone of voice, accent and other little touches that make this an authentic feeling character
The way Coogan’s story about the pigeon has a very boring ending
What did he do one night when he found a woman’s swimsuit?
What’s his response to the allegation that he was responsible for the death at the pool?
Clip begins at 24:21
Rick Thompson in the DVD extras for The Day Today
The DVD has various bonus extras on it. I remember watching one of those extras with my brother and there was one which was a mini documentary about news broadcasting and how The Day Today uses the style of news for comic effect.
After a couple of minutes, we were surprised to see our dad on screen! He’d been filmed for the documentary and there he was in the BBC newsroom talking about news.
Let’s investigate a brilliant British comedy TV show and use it to learn English. The Day Today was originally broadcast on the BBC in the mid-90s and is now considered a groundbreaking parody of news programmes and launched the careers of various comedians, including Steve Coogan.
Hello folks, this episode is called British Comedy: The Day Today and in this one we’ll be looking at another classic bit of British TV Comedy.
First I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the show and then we’ll listen to some clips and I’ll explain the language for you.
This time, it’s The Day Today which was originally broadcast on TV in the 1990s, 1994 to be exact – yes, that’s probably before some of you were even born. But we don’t care about whether this is old or brand new, it doesn’t matter. I think good comedy always stands the test of time, and The Day Today is no exception. It’s still relevant and funny now just like it was before. And in any case, I think it’s part of the fabric of British culture now, just like many other classic bits of British TV comedy that we all grew up watching on TV.
What kind of programme is it?
It’s a surreal parody of news and current affairs TV programmes. It’s a comedy version of the news.
Imagine the news, like the BBC 10 o’clock news, but with everything turned up to 11, everything exaggerated. It’s more dramatic, more pompous, more self-important and much more ridiculous than the real news.
But The Day Today isn’t just an impressions show of people copying news readers, it had this amazing surreal twist to it, which made it so much more subversive.
The show made fun specifically of the self-important nature of TV news and used surrealism and absurdity under the guise of a news broadcast.
The news always presents itself as being very important, very serious, very heavy, completely trustworthy, stern, authoritarian even. These days TV news has softened a bit, but not much. It still has this air of superiority, which I suppose is a necessary part of attempting to convey information in a factual, serious and balanced way. But TV news language – both oral and visual has become a cliché (had become a cliché back in the 90s) which makes it very ripe for making parody comedy.
An example of real TV news headlines
Here’s an example of the opening of the BBC 9 o’clock news, which was and still is the flagship news programme for the BBC.
Listen out for the serious tone of the newsreader Michael Beurk, the important and significant sounding music and also Michael Beurk’s slightly old school pronunciation in places. All of these things went into The Day Today. (News begins at 00:50)
The difference between the Day Today and other shows which have parodied the news was the surrealism. Basically this meant taking a silly story and dealing with it in the most serious way possible, but there was more to it than that. The phrases used, the images created and the slight sense of twisted insanity create this version of the news that’s part Monty Python, part Peter Cook and part some kind of high tech dystopian vision of the future.
This is absolutely a show that inspired Charlie Brooker to do work like Black Mirror. In fact, the creator of Black Mirror worked with Chris Morris – the main guy behind The Day Today. So, for me, they come from the same creative community. Clever, satirical, twisted, dark and very funny comedy writing in the UK.
The Day Today was broadcast at 9pm on BBC2 – the same time as the national news on BBC1. Apparently some people mistakenly watched The Day Today, thinking it was the real news, and believed the stories.
The parody of news tropes was spot on. It looked, sounded and smelt like news. The opening titles of the show captured that sense of drama, pomposity and urgency that you get from news programmes. The set looked just right. The different characters were weird and bizarre but perfectly captured the sorts of journalists or presenters that you could find on TV.
Alan Partridge made his first TV appearance on this show as the sports reporter with a chip on his shoulder who was always getting things wrong.
The language is a big part of it. The news readers speak in this kind of news dialect, with a certain kind of intonation, complex sentences that go on too long and mixed metaphors, as we will hear.
Excellent performances by the cast, all of whom have gone on to do other great things.
Chris Morris is a talent that people often forget about, but he was fearless, original, very clever, quite ruthless and a bit sick – the perfect recipe for great British comedy. He went on to do another show called Brass Eye, which was similar to The Day Today but more extreme and controversial (and is a potential other episode for LEP), then various weird comedy projects like BlueJam, an ambient mix album with subliminal sketch comedy going on at the same time. Then he became a film director and did the film Four Lions which is about inept terrorists planning an attack in London. The film won various awards, as did The Day Today.
Armando Iannucci went on to make The Thick of It and In The Loop – political satires about life on Whitehall, and then Veep which is the American equivalent following the vice president. He also directed Death of Stalin and has been involved in writing for Alan Partridge and other big projects.
Other notable cast members are Steve Coogan of course who went on to become successful as Alan Partridge but has also starred in a few Hollywood movies and things.
All the other comedians on the show went on to do more great work. Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan, Patrick Marber, David Schneider.
Other writers on the show were Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews who went on to create Father Ted and later The IT Crowd and Black Books (just Graham Linehan).
LET’S LISTEN TO SOME CLIPS AND USE THEM TO LEARN ENGLISH
Alright, enough already. Let’s listen to some clips which you can find on YouTube, and which I have posted on the page for this episode, with time codes to help you find the clips.
There are only 6 episodes of The Day Today but they’re pretty packed with classic stuff.
I’ve been through all 6 episodes and picked out some of my favourite moments to share with you.
The plan is to play them, then break them down sentence by sentence to make sure you understand them 100% and hopefully, get the jokes, although this show doesn’t really use jokes per se, but in any case the aim is to help you understand and appreciate the humour and learn plenty of English in the process.
All the episodes are on YouTube so you could check them all out later if you like, or buy the excellent DVD box set from the BBC, which I own and recommend to you. It’s only £5 on Amazon. Other bookshops are available.
I have played some clips of this show before, and explained them for language. You might remember Alan Partridge’s World Cup Countdown or his Sports Roundup, there was Peter O’Hanrahahanrahan interviewing the minister for ships, and I think also we had the interview with the woman raising money by selling jam.
Anyway, let’s get into it.
First I want to play you the opening titles of an episode, just for the music really, because it sets the tone. There are a few ridiculous headlines too.
CLIP 1: THE DAY TODAY – OPENING TITLES
What are the three stories exactly?
Luke describes the opening titles
Those headlines again
Remember the way grammar changes in headlines.
FIST HEADED MAN DESTROYS CHURCH
Presumably a man with a fist for a head has destroyed a church. You can imagine him headbutting the walls or something. Don’t think about it too much, it’s supposed to be funny to hear such ridiculous things spoken in that voice using that register.
CAR DRIVES PAST WINDOW IN TOWN
The most boring story. A car drove past a window in a town. It’s accompanied by a video of a car driving past a building.
LEICESTER MAN WINS RIGHT TO EAT SISTER
Presumably a man from Leicester has taken court action to allow him to eat his sister. You could imagine this was a real story if he wanted to ‘wed’ his sister, or cousin, especially if he’s from Leicester, but this is to ‘eat’ his sister.
“Those are the headlines, now fact me till I fart.”
CLIP 2: WAR
Australia and Hong Kong have signed a treaty to create an amazing free trade agreement which will be very beneficial for both places and marks a new beginning of peace and cooperation between them.
Chris Morris interviews the British Minister with special responsibility for the commonwealth (this is the days when HK was still a British dependent territory) and the Australian Foreign Secretary – both men who are responsible for the deal.
The interview seems to start as a celebration of the new deal, but the newsreader Chris Morris manages to manipulate the two of them into a diplomatic fight which ends in a declaration of war.
This is a great sketch. The newsreader causes a war in order to be able to cover it in dramatic fashion on his news show. For me it’s about how the media can sometimes drive the agenda through their reporting. The BBC isn’t officially biased. In fact I think most journalists have an honest intention to report on what’s happening, but they’re always going to impose some of their world view on the way they explain stories. But also you get the sense sometimes that some TV producers and presenters are a bit seduced by their own power and end up pushing things in a certain direction under the guise of critical thinking.
Also, perhaps news programmes thrive on creating drama and reporting on a war is somehow the dream of many broadcast journalists, or at least seems like that because war correspondents have this air of action and adventure which borders on being romantic, and the efficient and lively way that broadcasters deal with stories of war makes it seem like they’re enjoying it somehow. There’s precise technical information, reporters in the middle of the action and loads of dramatic music, graphics and images.
Let’s listen to this sketch, which is about 4mins long.
Over to you
Here are some things to listen out for
How Chris Morris stokes up tensions and pushes the two diplomats towards war
Chris Morris’s confrontational interview style, typical of BBC presenters like Jeremy Paxman, notorious for bullying politicians on TV
The mixed metaphors and clichés like, “The stretched twig of peace is at melting point” and
“People here are literally bursting with war.”
The glee with which Chris says “YES, IT’S WAR!”
The OTT way that the show snaps into action once war has been declared, like they were ready and prepared for this, and as journalists this is what they live for
The name of the Day Today smart bomb (which I think is an actual bomb fired by The Day
Today, with a camera on it, so they can report from the middle of the fight. The news station have launched their own bombs in this war)
The clunky way the show goes to the weather, after all that war
I will be going through all of this again after we’ve heard it and I will break it down to the bare bones and will explain language and all that
CLIP 3: Peter O’hanrahahanrahan – Ich Nichten Lichten (Episode 2)
Ministers in Europe have been involved in difficult discussions about quota rates for trade with the US. I expect they’ve been debating what the rates should be, with some ministers disagreeing about the final decision.
Economics correspondent Peter O’Hanrahahanrahan is in Brussels because he says he’s spoken to the German minister and knows how he feels about the decision.
Peter O Hanrahahanrahan’s name is a joke on a real correspondent called Brian Hanrahan (an irish name I think) who actually used to call our house sometimes to speak to my dad (who used to be a BBC news man). Michael Beurk also came round sometimes. He was one of the presenters of the 9 o’clock news who is parodied by Chris Morris on The Day Today. In fact, I feel like I grew up in a news household because my dad often reviewed videos of presenters, we always watched the news, there were BBC pens and mugs all around the house and we sometimes met BBC TV presenters and news readers. I never met Alan Partridge though.
Peter O’Hanrahahanrahan is incompetent, stupid and also petulant (disobeys orders and lies, childishly). It turns out that Peter hasn’t spoken to the German minister and just stayed in his hotel room the whole time. He’s making up the information and can’t even speak German.
Listen out for
The way Chris Morris is sceptical about what Peter is saying, and starts to question his story subtly, before full-on bullying him and telling him off like a naughty schoolboy
Peter’s pathetic attempt to speak German, clearly pretending that he knows the language and actually spoke to the German minister, when he doesn’t and didn’t
How Peter finally admits that he doesn’t actually know what happened and didn’t speak to the minister at all, like a teenager admitting that he’s lying
Peter O Hanrahahanrahan – Ich nichten lichten (starts at 19m40sec)
CLIP 4: SOME KIND OF DRUBBING INCIDENT (Episode 3
In this one we start with a sports report from Alan Partridge but it gets interrupted with the news that The Queen and the Prime Minister have had a fight. We then follow the story and learn that during their weekly meeting, the PM (John Major) punched The Queen. This sounds shocking of course, especially now that The Queen is elderly, but that’s not the point.
Instead the show is mocking the way the news would deal with a constitutional crisis, springing into action in order to cover the crisis in full detail. It’s also just ridiculous to imagine The Queen having a brawl with anyone.
Listen out for
The report from Jennifer Gumpets in front of Buckingham Palace. This report is so realistic.
There isn’t much comedy in it beyond the bizarreness of the story. It’s just a perfect little parody of a report from a correspondent.
“And as a result of that broadcast the crisis has deepened dramatically” The news actually makes the situation worse by broadcasting footage of the fight, and then starts reporting on that too.
Spartacus Mills (history expert) – “Can you sum it up in a word? No. A sound?” What sound does Spartacus use to sum up the situation?
The special broadcast which was pre-recorded and designed to be played at times of crisis. It’s basically a way to say “This is Britain, and everything is all right. It’s ok. It’s fine.” and it’s filled with proud patriotic sentiments. The irony is that this kind of thing is either a) needed now in order to make British people feel that everything’s fine or b) the sort of thing used by the Leave campaign to convince people to vote Brexit.
What’s the solution to the crisis which has been agreed by both sides?
Clips start at 5:38 & 19:40/21:10
The PM was seen to leave hurriedly after half and hour
All about the subject of SLEEP, with Amber & Paul. Listen to hear us comparing our sleeping habits, talking about insomnia, sleepwalking, talking in your sleep, snoring, falling asleep on public transport, snoring cats, Paul learning Arabic in his sleep and more, including some slightly disgusting stories, which is nice!
Hello folks, how are you? Amber and Paul are on the podcast again today in this episode and before we jump into our conversation I would like to do a little introduction, which I promise to keep as brief as possible.
Premium Episodes are coming…
I’m uploading quite a lot of free episodes at the moment (including this one) but, I have also been working on several Premium series, which means quite a lot of premium episodes coming soon. So if you’re a premium subscriber and you’re wondering when the next premium episodes are going to arrive – they’re coming soon.
I have a bit of a backlog of free episodes which I have to publish first and I’ll be publishing them over the next couple of weeks. Mainly those free ones are conversations with people that I organised recently when suddenly everyone became available. Sometimes that’s the way it works. Suddenly, lots of people became available around the same time, so I set up interviews with them and this is why I’ve got a bit of a backlog. I would hold onto the conversations and publish them later, but often they are time-sensitive, I mean, we talk about things which are a bit relevant to what’s going on now. So, I think I’ll publish a few free episodes maybe up until episode 599, and then the free episodes will pause for a bit while I record and publish some premium content.
So, June will probably be a month of LEP Premium mainly, meaning lots of premium content but the free podcast will be a bit quiet.
Sign up to LEP Premium at teacherluke.co.uk/premium
Episode 600 Live Stream
Episode 600 is coming up and I’m going to record it while live streaming on YouTube. I still don’t have a date for the YouTube live stream yet, but when I know more I will let you know. It’ll probably be a weekday, maybe a Friday, probably at about 3pm CET, probably at the end of June or the beginning of July. Can’t say more at this time because I don’t know.
SLEEP with Amber & Paul
The plan in this episode was to discuss the topic of sleep with Amber & Paul and we did that as you will hear, but there is about 15 minutes of chat at the beginning before we actually get to the topic!
We talk about a few differences between British and American English including expressions like “I couldn’t care less” and “I can’t be arsed”, and the way Brits and Americans say the word “Duty”.
Then there is some showbiz news from the three of us.
London LEPsters and Amberfans, please pay attention to an announcement from Amber – it’s an opportunity to see her and Sarah on stage in Islington, London on Thursday 23rd May.
LEPsters who use YouTube – listen out for some news from Paul regarding his one man stand up show #Franglais.
Also there is some pretty big personal news from Paul, not about stand up shows or anything – it’s more personal than that – and I think this is the first time he’s announcing this publicly, so this is a bit of a scoop for the podcast. So, watch out for Paul’s personal announcement.
Then we eventually do get to the subject of sleep and the rest of the episode is all about us comparing our sleeping habits, and talking about things like insomnia, sleepwalking, talking in your sleep, snoring, falling asleep on public transport, snoring cats, Paul learning Arabic in his sleep and more, including some slightly disgusting stories, which is nice.
Sleep is a very rich area for English vocabulary. So look out for the variety of ways that we talk about this subject and watch out also for a premium episode devoted to vocabulary on this topic coming in the future at some point.
That’s it then. Let’s get started. Here we go.
Amber & Sarah’s Show in London
Rosemary Branch Theatre, Islington, Thurs 23 May, 7.30. Details below.
Paul Taylor’s FULL stand up show #FRANGLAIS – now available on YouTube. Watch it here!
The bits in French have English subtitles 👍
Thank you for listening. Keep it up folks, it’s good for your English on a long-term basis, I promise. Obviously it helps if you just enjoy it, and I hope that you enjoyed another chat today with the pod-pals.
A little heads-up about what you can expect from the free episodes which are coming.
The next one should be a conversation with Paul in which we talk about getting older, growing up, having children, what it means to be a good father and things like that. It’s actually a really good conversation I think – it gets quite deep and meaningful. If all goes according to plan, that should be the next episode.
Then, there will be more conversations with other guests coming soon, including Australian journalist Oliver Gee (and hopefully we’re going to talk about loads of things, including the recent fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, and other stories) and also a chat with my Dad about some recent news, no doubt including the latest Brexit update, the European elections and hopefully some football chat too.
So, as long as my computer doesn’t completely break down or something, that should be the plan for the next few episodes, taking us up to episode 600. And there will be a whole load of premium episodes arriving too.
Get the Luke’s English Podcast App on your phone for all the episodes, access to the premium content, and loads of bonus stuff including app-only episodes, loads of jingles I’ve made in the past, videos and more things of that nature.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks again to Amber & Paul for their contribution.
THERE IS BONUS AUDIO FOR THIS EPISODE IN THE LEP APP 😉👍
In the last episode you heard me talking to Amber and Paul. I hope you enjoyed that. It was lots of fun. I recorded it last week and after doing that mammoth episode about poshness Amber had to go but Paul stayed and so I thought we would return to the topic of the British citizenship test. We talked about this last time in episode 527 when Paul took the test on the podcast and failed.
I still had some other bits and pieces that I wanted to cover in the episode, including a stand up routine about the citizenship test and also an article in The Telegraph. Both of those things include their own citizenship tests, so let’s see if Paul can pass them. Be prepared to be either shocked or amazed by Paul’s knowledge about British things in general. Also we end up taking a citizenship test for the USA and to see if we pass or not, just keep listening.
So this episode is a chance for you to listen to Paul and me in conversation, but there’s also loads of stuff to learn in terms of British culture and certain words which are often pronounced wrong by native speakers of British English.
Check the page for this episode, where you will find links to the various tests and videos we’re talking about.
Let’s now join Paul and me after we’d just finished a cup of tea, ready to talk more on the podcast and let’s see how much he and you know about British life, culture and language.
Videos & Links
Imran Yusuf’s British Citizenship Test
The Daily Telegraph’s British Citizenship Test for Meghan Markle
Amber & Paul join me to talk again about poshness, posh accents and posh celebrities. This episode is full of different British accents – posh, RP and regional differences. It’s also full of comedy and I found myself laughing out loud while editing this, especially the interview with the football player that Paul tells us about. I hope you enjoy it.
Luke rambles about folding seats on public transport, the spring equinox, saying goodbye to winter and the recent posh or not posh episodes.
Here’s another British comedy episode.
We’re going to listen to a comedy sketch by Monty Python.
This time we’re looking at British manners, politeness, communication style and just some madcap comedy too.
Similar episodes in the past have been things like my episode about British communication style (What Brits Say vs What They Mean), What is this British comedy? How to learn English with comedy TV series, and the episodes I’ve done about Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
We’re going to listen to a clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and also consider the cultural values behind the sketch, and how that relates to things like making complaints, saying sorry and making requests.
There’s quite a well-known series of postcards called the How to be British Collection. You might have seen them. They contain little cartoons illustrating life in England from the point of view of learners of English. There are some classic sketches in that collection.
One of them is called “Lesson 16 – How to complain”.
It shows a couple in a restaurant, in England we imagine. They don’t look happy with the food. The man says “This meat is as tough as old boots” and the woman says “It tastes off. And these vegetables are cold.” (some nice vocab in there already)
In the next frame the man says “this wine is awful – I asked for dry and they’ve given us sweet.” and she says “and look, there’s a worm in my side salad…”
Ah, a typical English restaurant.
Then the waiter comes over and says “How is your meal? Is everything all right?”
Now, what would you say in that situation? How would you respond? Would you complain? How would you do it?
Well, in the sketch, after the waiter says “Is everything all right?” the man says “Oh yes. It’s all lovely!” and the woman says “Excellent, thank you!”
The point here is that British or English people avoid saying the bad thing, making the complaint, because they’re too polite and don’t like to cause a problem, so they say it’s all fine.
Is this a stereotype of English communication style? Partly. As we’ve seen before.
What would I say?
I would say that the food was no good, especially the part about the worm. Obviously those extreme details are added for comic effect, like a worm in the salad. But if my food was just not up to scratch, would I complain? I probably wouldn’t complain if it was something minor, but a big thing would be an issue, but what’s definitely true is that I don’t like getting into a situation of conflict or confrontation and so I would probably be very reasonable about my complaint. My wife is more direct about these things. She’s French. We often notice a big difference in the way we deal with things like this. She’s much more direct about making a complaint and getting what she feels she is entitled to. For some reason it’s more difficult for me. I don’t like getting into those confrontations. Is this just me, or is this British people in general? I think it’s a bit of both. I’m perhaps not the confrontational kind, but also Brits are like that too, more than other nations, as far as I can tell.
Of course there are plenty of British people who complain vociferously if there’s a problem, a lot of Brits (certainly English people) will avoid an awkward situation if they feel that nothing can be done about it.
Why do people want to avoid confrontation? What’s the worst that could happen?
Let’s find out in this sketch.
The Dirty Fork Sketch
Listen to the sketch – just try to understand what’s going on. It’ll help if you watch the video because there are a couple of visual elements, but if you don’t watch it – just try to work out the details. Essentially, you’ll hear a couple in a French restaurant. They have a problem, and then they are visited at the table by various members of the restaurant staff including the waiter, the head waiter, the manager and finally the chef from the kitchen.
Let’s listen to it and see if you can work out what’s going on. Then I’ll break it down for you so you understand it just like a native speaker.
Bonus: Watch out for the punchline at the end.
Summary A man and woman are in a fancy restaurant. The French waiter is very keen to make their stay satisfying. The man asks for another fork because his is a little bit dirty. The reaction of the waiter is extreme. he apologises profusely. He fetches the head waiter who comes to apologise. He makes over the top apologies. The restaurant manager comes out and his apology is serious and dramatic. Finally the chef comes out. He’s a huge angry man with a meat cleaver. He’s furious with the customers because they made a complaint which has caused so much sorrow to the staff of the restaurant. He shouts revenge as he tries to kill them.
“Lucky I didn’t tell them about the dirty knife!”
The main point is I think this sketch is making fun of people who keep quiet about little complaints or use language to minimise problems, because they’re scared about making a fuss. This seems to be what they imagine could happen if they point out a problem. This is the worst nightmare of every British person who awkwardly makes a complaint. They’re terrified of making a fuss or causing a scene.
It’s not “I’ve got a dirty fork”, it’s “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”.
It’s ridiculous really – either you’ve got a fork or not. You can’t have a bit of a fork. Your fork can be a bit dirty, but it’s a bit silly to say “I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork”. However, this kind of minimising language is very common when people want to make something sound less serious than it is.
E.g. 1 “We’ve got a bit of a dirty table. Could you give it a bit of a wipe for us please?”
E.g. 2 Imagine someone announcing to someone that there’s been an accident, but they’re trying to minimise the seriousness of it because for some reason they’re embarrassed about it or they want to reduce the shock.
“Can I have a bit of a chat with you. Just a bit of a chat. It’s no big deal, it’ll just take a second.
It’s just that we might have had a little bit of a problem downstairs. There’s justsort of been a little bit of an explosion in the kitchen. Just tinylittle bang really – more of a pop really, just a tiny little pop – you’d hardly notice it really. I heard it though and thought “Did I imagine that? Did someone just pop a balloon, or fart or something?” and then I picked myself off the ground and had a look downstairs and, yeah, the restaurant is a bit err, it’s a bit scratched and there’s a slight hole in the wall, and in the ceiling and a few puffs of smoke. At first I thought – “oh is that the chef having a cigarette out the back? I thought he’d given up!” But no it wasn’t him – I guess he won’t be smoking again in a hurry! Can you speak to him? Well, he’s a bit tied up at the moment, no he can’t come to the phone he’s… just resting. I think he fainted or just fell over after the thing, the thing that happened in the kitchen, and his head might have fallen off slightly and he might have lost a couple of other limbs in the confusion but anyway, no need to worry too much, it’s basically under control more or less, I just thought you might , want to pop down to the kitchen to have a look and maybe call an ambulance. Yeah, I would but I’ve lost my legs and I’m feeling a bit sleepy so I’m going to have a bit of a lie down, but I thought you might like to know… OK?
So, it’s always “A slight problem” or “A bit of a problem”.
Go through the paragraph again and highlight the minimising language.
Back to the comedy sketch…
This sketch is making fun of our culture I think – the way we are afraid of causing a fuss. Also it makes fun of the over-the-top way that fancy restaurants might apologise for small problems. They’re so keen to welcome and satisfy their customers. The sketch also gets completely carried away, especially when John Cleese’s “Mungo” comes out.
To an extent it’s a little bit pointless analysing Monty Python’s comedy because they make fun of absolutely everything, but I feel that they’re definitely poking fun at stuffy, polite culture.
Why do people minimise negative things? They want it to sound less serious. They don’t want to make someone feel they’re complaining. They want to show that it’s no problem – but why would it be a problem?
If you had a dirty fork you’d just say – “Excuse me, can I have another fork please? This one’s a bit dirty” the waiter is not going to be mortified. He’ll just get you another fork. This sketch represent’s the customer’s worst fear – that there will be a problem or a fuss.
“We don’t want to cause a fuss! Don’t make a scene!”
Now let’s go through the sketch again and understand it in detail.
RESTAURANT SKETCH: COMPLETE SCRIPT
It’s nice here, isn’t it?
Oh, (It’s a) very good restaurant, three stars you know.
Good evening, sir! Good evening, madam! And may I say what a pleasure it is to see you here again, sir!
Oh thank you. Well there you are dear. Have a look there, anything you like. The boeuf en croute is fantastic.
Oh if I may suggest, sir … the pheasant à la reine, the sauce is one of the chef’s most famous creations.
Em… that sounds good. Anyway just have a look… take your time. Oh, er by the way – I’ve got a bit of a dirty fork, could you … er.. get me another one?
I beg your pardon.
Oh it’s nothing … er, I’ve got a fork, (it’s) a little bit dirty. Could you get me another one? Thank you.
Oh … sir, I do apologize.
Oh, no need to apologize, it doesn’t worry me.
Oh no, no, no, I do apologize. I will fetch the head waiter immediatement. (immediately – in French)
Oh, there’s no need to do that!
Oh, no no… I’m sure the head waiter, he will want to apologize to you himself. I will fetch him at once.
Well, you certainly get good service here.
They really look after you… yes.
Excuse me monsieur and madame. (examines the fork) It’s filthy, Gaston … find out who washed this up, and give them their cards immediately.
Oh, no, no.
Better still, we can’t afford to take any chances, sack the entire washing-up staff.
No, look I don’t want to make any trouble.
Oh, no please, no trouble. It’s quite right that you should point these kind of things out. Gaston, tell the manager what has happened immediately! (The Waiter runs off)
Oh, no I don’t want to cause any fuss.
Please, it’s no fuss. I quite simply wish to ensure that nothing interferes with your complete enjoyment of the meal.
Oh I’m sure it won’t, it was only a dirty fork.
I know. And I’m sorry, bitterly sorry, but I know that… no apology I can make can alter the fact that in our restaurant you have been given a dirty, filthy, smelly piece of cutlery…
It wasn’t smelly.
It was smelly, and obscene and disgusting and I hate it, I hate it ,.. nasty, grubby, dirty, mangy, scrubby little fork. Oh … oh . . . oh . . . (runs off in a passion as the manager comes to the table)
Good evening, sir, good evening, madam. I am the manager. I’ve only just heard . .. may I sit down?
Yes, of course.
I want to apologize, humbly, deeply, and sincerely about the fork.
Oh please, it’s only a tiny bit… I couldn’t see it.
Ah you’re good kind fine people, for saying that, but I can see it.., to me it’s like a mountain, a vast bowl of pus.
It’s not as bad as that.
It gets me here. I can’t give you any excuses for it – there are no excuses. I’ve been meaning to spend more time in the restaurant recently, but I haven’t been too well… (emotionally) things aren’t going very well back there. The poor cook’s son has been put away again, and poor old Mrs Dalrymple who does the washing up can hardly move her poor fingers, and then there’s Gilberto’s war wound – but they’re good people, and they’re kind people, and together we were beginning to get over this dark patch … there was light at the end of the tunnel . .. now this . .. now this…
Can I get you some water?
(in tears) It’s the end of the road!!
The cook comes in; he is very big and has a meat cleaver.
(shouting) You bastards! You vicious, heartless bastards! Look what you’ve done to him! He’s worked his fingers to the bone to make this place what it is, and you come in with your petty feeble quibbling and you grind him into the dirt, this fine, honourable man, whose boots you are not worthy to kiss. Oh… it makes me mad… mad! (slams cleaver into the table)
The head waiter comes in and tries to restrain him.
Easy, Mungo, easy… Mungo… (clutches his head in agony) the war wound!… the wound… the wound…
This is the end! The end! Aaargh!! (stabs himself with the fork)