Beachcomber (Pen name)

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Beachcomber was a nom de plume used by surrealist humorous columnists D. B. Wyndham-Lewis and, chiefly, J. B. Morton as authors of the Daily Express column "By the Way" in the period 1919-1975. Other authors who used the name were Major John Bernard Arbuthnot MVO, the column's founder, and William Hartston, the current author of its revived form.


"By The Way" in print

"By The Way" was originally a column in the Globe, consisting of unsigned humorous pieces; P. G. Wodehouse was assistant editor of the column from August 1903 and editor from August 1904 to May 1909, during which time he was assisted by Herbert Westbrook.[1] After the Globe's closure, it was reestablished as a society news column in the Daily Express from 1917 onwards, initially written by social correspondent Major John Arbuthnot who invented the name "Beachcomber".

After Arbuthnot was promoted to deputy editor, it was taken over by Wyndham-Lewis some time in 1919 who reinvented it as an outlet for his wit and humour. It was then passed to Morton during 1924 though it is likely there was a period when they overlapped. Morton wrote the column until 1975; it was revived in the early 1990s and continues today, written by William Hartston. The column is unsigned except by "Beachcomber" and it was not publicly known that Morton or Wyndham-Lewis wrote it until the 1930s. The name is mainly associated with Morton who has been credited as an influence by Spike Milligan amongst others. Morton introduced the recurring characters and continuing stories that were a major feature of the column during his 51-year run.

The format of the column was a random assortment of small paragraphs which were otherwise unconnected. These could be anything, such as:

  • court reports, often involving Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs before Mr Justice Cocklecarrot.
  • angry exchanges of letters between characters such as Florence McGurgle and her dissatisfied boarders.
  • interruptions from "Prodnose", representing the public, who would then be roundly cursed by the author and kicked out.
  • installments of serials that could stop, restart from earlier, be abandoned altogether or change direction abruptly without warning.
  • parodies of poetry or drama, particularly of the extremely "literary" type such as Ibsen.
  • news reports from around the country.
  • or just anything that the author thought funny at the time.

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