Make a royal guard laugh
Time Out dons a glasses-nose-'tache combo and tries to crack the Queen's guards
Monday: stood still and stared into the middle distance. Tuesday: see above. And so on. Being a Foot Guard at St James’s Palace can’t be much fun, which is why it’s every Londoner’s duty to try and get them to chuckle.
For my first attempt, I pull on a Groucho Marx glasses-nose-’tache combo that defines the phrase ‘end of the pier’. I assume a position about six inches away from the guard to stare him out. To my delighted surprise, he cracks a smile immediately, and the subtle addition of a Scouser wig prompts a definite snort. Getting a big laugh looks like being straightforward. He seems like a game guy – a young Geordie, we learn – and would probably laugh if we asked him to do it nicely (or for Queen and country), but we want to do this properly.
In search of the big laugh, we move on to one-liners. I’ve compiled a few of my favourites and have borrowed the rest from the best (Tim Vine, Jimmy Carr, Peter Kay); bullishly confident, I start firing them off like a trigger-happy army recruit. No response. Not a flicker. Not even at ‘What do you call an Italian with a rubber toe?’ (‘Roberto.’) It’s proving almost impossible to extract a guffaw without any banter, and he’s clammed up like a pro. It’s time to bring out the heavy anecdotal artillery.
...and Denis Norden
Until I’d retrieved it from storage, ‘You Can’t Have Your Kayak and Eat It’ by Denis Norden and the late Frank Muir hadn’t been borrowed from Northcote Library for 22 years. On inspection, it’s no wonder: much of it is appallingly dated, mixing dubious Dickens-related puns (‘Crate irks packed Asians’) with drearily arch shaggy dog stories about the olden days. There is one about Elizabeth II, though, and this seems an appropriate moment to test it. Norden is these days largely reduced to coaxing sniggers out of TV audiences by saying the phrase ‘cock-up’. My campaign to reclaim the man as a national treasure begins outside St James’s Palace as I don NHS glasses, pick up a clipboard and commence a long-winded tale about Her Maj that includes the word ‘widdle’.
I’m interrupted mid-skit by an irate monarchist, who thunders ‘What are you doing pestering him? Leave him alone!’ The comedic momentum is shattered, and Norden’s tremendous closing salvo (something about the Queen parking on a double yellow line) rather peters out.
No matter. I have one final tactic in my armoury. It’s a risky one, but ‘The Laughing Policeman’ might just work. As I’m reaching for the lyric sheet, however, I am apprehended by a humourless copper. ‘We’re not here to be taken the mickey out of,’ he warns us darkly. He then tells us in no uncertain terms to leave.
Now seems like a bad time to break into song, particularly the one I’d got lined up. Instead, should I ‘shake him by his fat old hand and give him half a crown’, as the song advises? Perhaps not. We retreat with good grace and a new admiration for our armed forces, who continue to hold firm in the face of ferocious psychological warfare both at home and abroad.
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When I was really little (15 months or something), my family visited Windsor Castle and a guard winked and gave me a little wave (I was a really cute mop-topped red head with crazy ringlets then).
Just imagine the days - nay, the WEEKS - of grueling training required to stiffle a laugh. I mean, just think of the sheer strength needed to suppress a groan to that 'Roberto' joke! I've a new respect. Simply astonishing.