Ordinary words, in an odd order

Written by Jonathan Pagden

July 30, 2023

Greys Court is a National Trust stately home near Henley, it’s very old and has oodles of history but it’s not that big and was lived in till 2003 so it’s quite ‘human’ as stately homes go.
It has the usual quota of portraits and landscapes on the walls and all very appropriate. But then, in a frame on a shelf – this.

with one of the most deranged caption plates ever:

I have no idea how that came to be in such an odd setting and certainly it was utterly out of place – it must have had some personal significance to the one-time owners, perhaps as a reminder of a recurring nightmare?

And the stuff about “Master of the Horrid School of Teutonic Nights” – eh? The artist seems to have been a friend of the family, which may explain a lot…perhaps they didn’t want to offend him by burning it?

Anyhow, it’s brought to mind another example of ordinary words with a strange meaning because of the order they’re in, by that master of the odd, Spike Milligan.

The individual words aren’t very remarkable at all, but in Milligan’s order they become “The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea” which has a (sort of) meaning all of its own.

An explanation of the plot of the Goon Show episode which bear this title doesn’t really make things any clearer – but then clarity was very much not the point of the Goon Show…


My interest in this sort of stuff is that I make my living reading out loud words written by others and making it sound like I’m just talking, and there are times when I get to the end of a piece and think ‘Well, the individual words are in English and I’m sure they went into the microphone in the same order as on the page, but I have no idea what I just said’

That happened once during an awards show and the on-stage presenter (Matt Dawson) said “Congratulations, Voice! That last paragraph was a stinker, I didn’t understand a word of it” and before I could stop myself I pushed my ‘live’ button again and said “Neither did I” which got a huge laugh and showed I was there in the room and they weren’t just listening to a recording. For me that’s important.

It’s things like this that make my job enjoyable!

More about the painting at https://batch.artuk.org/discover/artworks/lady-of-title-removing-stallion-from-croquet-lawn-midnight-by-the-master-of-the-horrid-school-of-teutonic-nights-219500#

Take my recommendation and visit Greys Court: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/oxfordshire-buckinghamshire-berkshire/greys-court

(Want me to read your words to an audience – or even to write my own? Get in touch