Roll-call

Schoolmaster

Rowan Atkinson’s classic Roll-call sketch has been modestly tucked away under Philomena Cunk‘s wonderful list of words possibly (not) invented by Shakespeare, but it deserves its own coverage.

As Richard Sparks explains in a BTL comment on YouTube, he wrote the sketch in 1978 for Rowan’s first London revue, Rowan Atkinson and friends; after John Cleese saw it, he invited Rowan to do it for The secret policeman’s ball [in 1979]. Charmingly, it transpired that “the Powers That Be wanted to cut Rowan from the film because he was a complete unknown, and the show was over-long and packed with big-name stars”.

So here’s the sketch’s first outing at The secret policeman’s ball:

Like Alan Bennett’s Sermon, it evokes the peculiarities of the English upper classes at a particular time. Whereas the world of the Sermon was still familiar to AB’s audience, the audience for Roll-call might have had less personal experience of the bygone public-school values that Rowan Atkinson evokes, but the air of supercilious menace is a widely-enough shared characteristic of the English.

We all have our favourite names; alongside Elsworth-Beast Major, Orifice, Plectrum, and Zob, I’d like to put in a word for Kosygin.

Rowan Atkinson is yet another stammerer manqué; his overarticulation of plosives is partly a deliberate block-modification technique. I’d erased from my memory the painful ordeal of having to answer roll-call at school.

More classics under The English, home and abroad.

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