At last a voice for silent minority

Grumpy Old Men speak up for our generation Sometime 2005

It was H.L. Mencken, the oft-quoted American satirist, who wrote: ‘Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats’.


Mencken lived until 1956 so he didn’t share the same liberated upbringing as the participants in Grumpy Old Men (ABC, Tuesday 8pm) but it seems the British interviewees aren’t saying anything new.

But, like Mencken, what they do say is funny –very funny if you happen to have had a parallel (or nearly) life span.

These guys rail about everything and they do it in such an entertaining way that you easily forgive yourself for agreeing with every word they say.

There was the guy – was it Rory O’Farrell? – who sends perfectly grammatical text messages rather than use the favoured abbreviations of teenagers and twenty-odds.

There was Will Self who hates body piercing so much he envisages the day when all pierced people eventually die and are boiled down, stripped of their metal and rolled into a giant pita bread to be eaten by some favoured resident of Hades.


Delightful Bill Nighy wanted some young person to have the guts to put two t’s in bottle or even one t in later and Bob Geldof bagged everything.

Then there was a personal favourite – the use of apostrophes of possession.

Guests berated the general population for not knowing where apostrophes should be placed and it reminded me of the journalist on Perth’s Daily News of whom it was said: “He types all his copy without punctuation and then goes to his second drawer where he has an old tobacco tin full of commas, full stops and apostrophes, takes some between his fingers and flings them at the copy. Whatever sticks is good enough for him”.

One guy on Grumpy Old Men wrote to the boss of British Rail complaining that on official signage there was an apostrophe in Earl’s Court station but not one in Barons Court station.

He was even impressed when the British Rail person replied putting apostrophes in all the wrong places. “It must have taken him hours,” he said.


Even narrator Geoffrey Palmer got in the act pointing out on behalf of the series’ writers of signs on motorways to watch for deer: “When has anyone seen a deer on a motorway and, if we did, what would we be expected to do about it?”

Palmer, whose distinctive character voice, whether it is with Dame Judi in As Time Goes By or even the guest cooking his own breakfast while mayhem ensues in Fawlty Towers, sounds strangely controlled.

Nothing must have pissed him off that day.

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