Before there was SNL, and even before there was Monty Python’s Flying Circus, there was a brilliant comedy sketch show titled “At Last the 1948 Show.” One of the funniest skits takes place in a bookstore that is appropriately titled “The Bookshop,” which was first broadcast on March 1, 1967 on ITV in the UK. The bookseller (played by John Cleese) encounters an annoying customer (played by Marty Feldman) who keeps on asking for extremely rare, rather peculiar titles that are next to impossible to find — gradually wearing out the bookseller’s patience to great comedic effect. Surely this is the type of customer that every bookstore owner dreads. Without further ado, let’s meet the most annoying bookstore customer in the world…
[Bookseller]: Good morning, sir.
[Customer]: Good morning, can you help me? Do you have a copy of “Thirty Days in the Samarkand Desert with a Spoon” by A. J. Elliot?
B: No, we haven’t got it in stock, sir.
C: How about “A Hundred-and-One Ways to Start a Monsoon”?
C: An Indian gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment.
B: Well, I don’t know the book, sir.
C: Not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with “David Copperfield”?
B: Ah, yes, Dickens.
B: I beg your pardon?
C: No, Edmund Wells..
B: I think you’ll find Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield.”
C: No, Charles Dickens wrote “David Copperfield” with two p’s — this is “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells.
B: Well in that case we don’t have it.
C: Um – funny, you’ve got a lot of books here.
B: Yes, we do have quite a lot of books here, but we don’t have “David Coperfield” with one p by Edmund Wells. We only have “David Copperfield” with two p’s by Charles Dickens.
C: Pity – it’s more thorough than Dickens.
B: More “thorough”?
C: Yes – I wonder if it’s worth having a look at all the “David Copperfields.”
B: No, no, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” have two p’s.
C: Probably, but the original by Edmund Wells also had two p’s — it was after that that they ran into copyright difficulties.
B: No, I’m quite sure that all our “David Copperfields” with two p’s are by Charles Dickens.
C: How about “Great Expectations”?
B: Ah yes, we have that.
C: That’s “G-r-a-t-e Expectations,” also by Edmund Wells.
B: “G-R-A-T-E” Well, in that case we don’t have it. We don’t have anything by Edmund Wells. Actually, he’s not very popular.
C: Not “Nicholas Nickleby? That’s K-n-i-c-k-e-r-b-y… Knickerless?
C: Or “A Qristmas Qarol” with a q?
B: No, definitely not.
C: Sorry to trouble you. [Heading out the door.]
B: Not at all.
C: I wonder if you have “Rarnaby Budge”?
B: No, as I say, we’re right out of Edmund Wells.
C: No, not Edmund Wells — Charles Dickens.
B: Charles Dickens?
B: You mean “Barnaby Rudge.”
C: No, “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens. That’s Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author.
B: No, no… we don’t have “Rarnaby Budge” by Charles Dikkens with two k’s, the well-known Dutch author, and perhaps to save time I should add right away that we don’t have “Carnaby Fudge” by Darles Tikkens, nor “Stickwick Stapers” by Miles Pikkens with four m’s and a silent q. Why don’t you try the chemist?
C: I have – they sent me here.
B: Did they?
C: I wonder if you have “The Amazing Adventures of Captain Gladys Stoat-Pamphlet and Her Intrepid Spaniel Stig Among the Giant Pygmies of Corsica, Volume Two”?
B: No, no, we don’t have that one. Funny, we’ve got quite a lot of books here.
C: Yes, haven’t you.
B: Well, I mustn’t keep you standing around all day…
C: I wonder…
B: No, no, we haven’t. I’m closing for lunch now…
C: But I thought I saw it over “there.”
C: Over there…
C: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds.”
B: Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?
B: Yes, well we do have that one.
C: The expurgated version, of course.
B: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.
C: The expurgated version.
B: The expurgated version of Olsen’s “Standard Book of British Birds”?
C: Yes. It’s the one without the gannet.
B: The one without the gannet? They’ve all got the gannet. It’s a standard bird, the gannet — it’s in all the books.
C: Well I don’t like them, long nasty beaks they’ve got.
B: Well you can’t expect them to produce a special edition for gannet-haters!
C: Well, I’m sorry, I specially want the one without the gannet.
B: All right! [tears out the page with the gannet] Anything else?
C: Well, I’m not too keen on robins.
B: Right! Robins – robins… [tears out pages with robins] No gannets, no robins – there’s your book!
C: I can’t buy that – it’s torn!
B: It’s torn! So it is! [throws the book away]
C: I wonder if you’ve got…
B: Go on, ask me another. We’ve got lots of books here. This is a bookshop you know!
C: How about “Biggles Combs His Hair”?
B: No, no, no, we don’t have that one, no, no… funny. Try me again.
C: Have you got “Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”?
B: No, no, we haven’t got… which one?
C: “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying”
B: “Ethel The Aardvark?” I’ve seen it! We’ve got it! Here! Here! Here! “Ethel The Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.” There! Now buy it!
C: I haven’t got enough money on me.
B: I’ll take a deposit!
C: I haven’t got any money on me.
B: I’ll take a cheque!
C: I haven’t got a cheque-book.
B: It’s all right, I’ve got a blank one!
C: I don’t have a bank account.
B: Right! I’ll buy it for you! [he rings up the book] There we are. There’s your change. That’s for the taxi on the way home.
C: Wait, wait, wait…
B: WHAT? WHAT?
C: I can’t read!
B: Right. SIT! [customer plops down on the bookseller’s lap and the bookseller begins to read]: “Ethel the Aardvark was trotting down the lane one lively Summer day, trottety-trottety-trot, when she saw a Quantity Surveyor…”
You can watch the video on Youtube. Search for “John Cleese’s Favourite Sketch: The Bookshop.”
ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.
SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.