Beachcomber column turns 100 years old | History | News

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Beachcomber was played by Spike Milligan on TV but written by JB Morton

In fact, while this is indeed his centenary year, his actual birthday falls on August 2.

And so today we celebrate a life well lived during which Beachcomber has lampooned dictators, inspired a comic revolution and of course entertained millions of readers with a cast of characters ranging from Mr Justice Cocklecarrot to the Apostropher Royal Sir D’Anville O’M’Darlin’.

The origins of Beachcomber can be traced back to the First World War when, starting in May 1917, the Daily Express carried a column entitled Gossip Of The Day.


Morton turned the column into a unique daily dose of surreal inconsequentiality


On July 27 this title was changed to By The Way and on August 2, 1917 the byline Beachcomber appeared beneath it for the first time.

The column appears to have been written originally by John Bernard Arbuthnot – not a man with the CV of an anarchic humourist.

A veteran of the Scots Guards he fought in the Second Boer War before serving a stint in Hong Kong as aide-de-camp to the governor. By the time Arbuthnot joined the Daily Express as social correspondent and began writing Beachcomber he had served another stint in the Army, risen to major and been mentioned in dispatches for his service in the First World War.

Perhaps understandably, given the author’s background, the column was a fairly straight cocktail of news and comment.

Two years later, at the age of 44, Arbuthnot was promoted to deputy editor of the paper and handed on the column to D B Wyndham Lewis. He lasted five years before passing the baton to his friend and colleague JB Morton, who continued writing it for the next 50 years.

Morton turned the column into a unique daily dose of surreal inconsequentiality.

From around 1930 until the 1950s an annual collection of Beachcomber’s columns was published, bringing renewed joy to his followers, with its collected stories of Mr Justice Cocklecarrot and his misadventures with Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, Dr SmartAlick (the ludicrous headmaster of Narkover), Lady Cabstanleigh, Dr Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht and other regulars in the column’s parallel universe.

Dr Strabismus, incidentally, came up with the supposedly ridiculous idea of the electric toothbrush long before it was invented in all seriousness.

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Beachcomber has inspired British comedy such…

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