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"Respected Sir"


Gerard Hoffnung read a letter at the Oxford Union, on December 4, 1958, that may well qualify for the honor of the funniest story ever told.

Hoffnung was born in Berlin in 1925 and arrived in London in 1939 as a refugee from the Nazis. He went on to become a writer, a cartoonist and a composer of considerable talent. Hoffnung achieved his greatest fame in the 1950s, when he organized a series of tongue-in-cheek music festivals, the like of which the world had never before seen.

He was also, I'm told, one heck of a tuba player.

No one tells the bricklayer story like Hoffnung, so I've uploaded the his rendition here in Quicktime Movie format. The complete recording of his Oxford Union speech—which I've treasured on LP ever since it first entered our family record collection when I was a lad of 13—is now available on CD through the Official Gerard Hoffnung Web Site in the U.K.

Here, for the Quicktime challenged—or for those who have difficulty following Hoffnung's 0ver-the-top British accent—is the full transcript of the story (available in the Folio Society's collection, The Best After-Dinner Stories):

A striking lesson in keeping the upper lip stiff is given in a recent number of the Weekly Bulletin of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, which prints the following letter from a bricklayer in Golders Green to the firm for whom he worked.

"Respected Sir:

"When I got to the top of the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked some bricks off the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley to the top of the building, and hoisted up a couple of barrels of bricks. When I had fixed the building there was [emphasis] a lot of bricks left over. I hoisted the barrel back up again and secured the line at the bottom. I went up to the top and filled the barrel with extra bricks. Then I went to the bottom and cast off the line.

"Unfortunately ... the barrel of bricks was heavier than I was and before I knew what was happening the barrel started down, jerking me off the ground. I decided to hang on. And halfway up I met the barrel coming down, and received severe blows on the shoulder. [Pause ... giggle.] I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers jammed in the pulley.

"When the barrel hit the ground it burst its bottom, allowing all the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel and so started down again at high speed. Halfway down, I met the barrel coming up and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the bricks, getting several painful cuts from the sharp edges. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go the line.

"The barrel ... the barrel ... the barrel ... then came down, giving me another heavy blow and putting me in hospital.

"I respectfully request sick leave."

You would have too.

Posted by Rodger on December 16, 2004 at 07:45 PM | Permalink


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