- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Nov 1978, p. 71-82
- Wicks, Ben, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A humourous look at Canada and Canadian politics and politicians, interspersed with personal anecdotes and reminiscences. An optimistic look at Canada and Canada's potential.
- Date of Original
- 9 Nov 1978
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- NOVEMBER 9, 1978
Up the Empire--Interbreeding for a Better World
AN ADDRESS BY Ben Wicks, POLITICAL CARTOONIST AND AUTHOR
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald W. Lewis
BRIG. GEN. LEWIS:
Members and friends of The Empire Club: Our guest speaker, Ben Wicks, and myself have at least two things in common--we are both Canadians, new Canadians, if you like; and we were both born in England. Indeed, Ben Wicks might share in common with me what I share in common with many other people from the United Kingdom in that we have some of the blood of each of the four nations that make up Great Britain. Each country has a distinct national characteristic. For example, there are the Scots. They religiously keep the Sabbath and for that matter anything else that comes their way. Then there are the Welsh. They pray upon their knees and upon their neighbours. Then the Irish--the Irish really do not know what they want but they are perfectly prepared to die for it. Then there are the English. The Englishman is a selfmade man, thereby absolving God from an awful responsibility.
But Ben Wicks is a very special Englishman. He comes from a select and distinguished group, one could say unique, in that they have been born within the sound of the famous Bow bells (the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow Church). Therefore they are the rare and true-blue Cockneys. They epitomize Shakespeare's "this happy breed."
Ben Wicks has the ebullience, humour and physique of the true Cockney, complete to that bulge in their cheeks which is where they keep their tongues. They are a happy band, always optimistic and never lost for an answer. For instance, when the British Government was considering building a tunnel under the English Channel to link France and England, an official in Whitehall at the Ministry of Works was opening tenders and listing the figures: Dorsetshire Underwater Construction Company--£358 million; the Marine Underwater Construction and Shoring Company--£373 million; Channel Services Construction--£365 million; Alfred Blogg & Son--£15.5.9'/2. The official asked his assistant if he knew the firm of Blogg & Son. When the answer was no, he asked him to phone Blogg and find out how they intended to build the tunnel for £15.5.9'/2. The official got through to Mr. Blogg and asked him. Blogg said that he was going to send his son, Fred, to Calais with a shovel and that he was going to Dover with a shovel. Then his son would dig towards Dover, while he would dig towards Calais and when they met up in the middle, there was the tunnel. The official said, "But what if you miss each other?" And Blogg replied, "Well, you get two tunnels!"
There is also a touch of the romantic and of the sea in Ben Wicks for he sailed to and fro across the Atlantic as a professional musician on luxury liners. Then in 1957 he came to Canada to reside here permanently. He developed and refined his incisive talents as a cartoonist to such a degree that Time, in a full-page article on our speaker, described his "uncanny knack of anticipating news and commenting on it with a delphic twist."
Mr. Wicks is a TV personality with his own syndicated series. He is one of the highest paid and most widely distributed political cartoonists in the world--Time magazine put his daily readership at over fifty million. All this and an author too--Ben Wicks, the writer, produced the best seller, Ben Wicks' Canada, and his latest book, Ben Wicks' Women is currently at the book stores and will likely be the root of your next feminist row.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is with pleasure, I might almost say with glee, that I introduce today's guest speaker, Mr. Ben Wicks.
Ladies and gentlemen: It's always the same. Just when you're going to give a funny speech, the guy before you gives one better!
Need I say that I'm delighted to be here amongst such distinguished company? I was surprised to be asked, but when I found out how much I was being paid, I wasn't surprised any longer. You're quite right, Mr. Chairman. Cockneys do have a sense of humour. They need it--to come out and speak for nothing. But the chicken was terrific.
I can only guess at the reasons why I was asked. Perhaps, because I work for The Globe and Mail, the only national newspaper in Canada, and because I appear on the financial pages of the newspaper, there was word bandied about that "the guy must be intelligent."
Well, let's just clear the decks and get honesty on the table. I want to take you back to the year 1944. Many of you will remember that in that year there was a fairly large war going on in Europe and other places. It was actually possible in 1944 to tell which side was going to win. I joined the English side in 1944, and I had been in the army about a month. There were about thirty of us living in a but (the whole British Army lived in huts in 1944) and one morning the Sergeant-Major came in very, very excited. He said, "I has wonderful news. We has a General, coming to visit the camp!" Well, because he was jumping up and down with excitement, we decided to join him. So we all stood up and jumped up and down in the middle of this silly hut.
Now, his idea was that before the General arrived, we would get the camp cleaned up and impress him. So, since the British Army is a very organized group, we rush out of the but and line up in three rows of ten--which, for those of you who are not English, adds up to thirty.
Once we were lined up, the Sergeant-Major carried on as follows: "H'all those wiv a Wuniversity education, one pace forward march."
So one guy steps out. I don't know to this day whether he had a university education, or whether he was just deaf.
The Sergeant-Major says to him, "Right, you. Go round the camp and pick up every bit o' paper that you can see." So this guy sets off.
Then he says, "All those who got through 'igh school." Another three step out.
The Sergeant-Major says, "Follow along after 'im, and pick up all the cigarette ends you can find." So off they trot.
Then he says, "All those who got through grade nine." A whole mob stepped out. "Right," he says, "follow along after that group and pick up all the match sticks you can find . . . and as for you, Wicks ... you go along be'ind that lot and you might bloody well learn something."
So it's quite obvious you haven't got an intellect standing before you. But you might have someone who can draw. That's why they've set up the board. They figure 1 can draw pictures, since I draw cartoons for the newspaper.
Well, I did go to one of the finest art schools in the world, in London, England. I went for two weeks, actually--evening classes. At the end of this period we had our first test. Unlike the common-garden variety art class, where you have bowls of fruit to draw, we had just one banana. It sat on this table. I know many of you enjoy seaside postcards--but this had nothing to do with the fact that the teacher was not fussy about my banana. In fact, he suggested that I get into something else that did not involve drawing. So I did, as you can see. I draw cartoons--there's no drawing involved in that.
Now, the other thing. When you see a crowd like this, it gives you the idea that you're getting fairly well known, at least in Toronto. About three months ago, one morning, I promised my two children that I would go to their high school because they were having a "Personality Day." People in business were there to tell the kids what it's like in the working world. So I agreed to do this, but it turned out to be at the worst possible time--one of my busiest days. At nine o'clock Doreen drove me to the school and waited in the car outside. I rushed in and was greeted by a crowd of kids. I delivered a twenty-minute talk and then charged out, leapt in the car and Doreen rushed me to York Mills subway station. By now it was 9.30, and the platform at the subway was deserted, with the exception of one woman and her daughter, a girl of about fifteen. As I walked past this pair, I heard the daughter say to her mother, "That's Ben Wicks."
Well, I thought, bloody good. Blimey, I'm glad I went to the school.
So I get on the subway train, I open a book, and I'm suddenly conscious that people opposite are nudging each other and pointing. Now I'm beginning to feel like Paul Newman. I figure, this is fantastic. I start to think, how does Gregory Peck behave when he's sitting on a subway train? You don't scratch your nose, or your ear. So I begin to smile at all these people. At each stop, as they get off, they are nudging each other and looking over their shoulders.
By the time we get to College Street, I look like a complete idiot--grinning all over my face. So I get off and rush to the CBC. And just before I went into the studio, a technician stopped me and said, "Excuse me, Ben, but you won't need this." And he peeled off the biggest label you've ever seen from my pocket. The label said, "Hi! I'm Ben Wicks." I've never been so embarrassed in me life.
But regardless of whether you've invited the wrong person, or not, it's too late. You've had it. The doors are locked. So I'm going to take advantage of this and carry on with my mission: "Up the Empire--Interbreeding for a Better World."
Many of you may think that I'm not serious, but I am perfectly serious in this. What I'm suggesting is that, if you don't know it already, this country is in trouble. Crime is up, church is down, porno is in, virginity is out. Canada, in fact, is going to the dogs.
What are Canadians doing about it? Nothing. What am I going to do? Plenty. What I have to say is this. There's nothing actually wrong with this country. That's the first thing you have to understand. It's the people that live in it.
Now, what this country needs are Englishmen. They need Englishmen to guide, Englishmen to lead, Englishmen to advise, Englishmen to overcome the problems now besetting Canada, Englishmen to steer Canada along the road of righteousness to still waters and therein rest, for all the world to see and marvel and emulate. I'll wait for the cheers to subside and the crowd to resume their seats.
Now, are you back comfortably in your chairs?
When I speak of more Englishmen, many of you are going to say, we have a lot of English living here now. Of course, I'm not speaking of the riffraff and the rabble who have settled here since the war because they couldn't get a job in England. We certainly don't want any more of the likes of you know who. For one thing, they breed like rabbits, and before we know where we are we'd be in a hell of a pickle.
No, that is not the kind we need. Certainly I can tell you how easy it is to get those weird kinds, that we have enough of. I think I should tell you a story that I read in the paper just last week about the newest English immigrant who wanted to come over. It seems he had worked for Lady Astor, as a butler, and had been fired. He now wants to make his home in Canada. The reason why he had been fired is well worth listening to, because it gives a perfect example of the type of person we don't need.
It seems that this particular person, James, had been called into the library by Lady Astor, who had said to him, "James, remove my dress . . . James, remove my stockings ... James, remove my petticoat--and if I ever catch you wearing my clothes again . . ."
This is not the kind of man we are looking for. God knows, we have enough of them. We've got one in Ottawa. Oh, what am I saying? Cut that!
No, what we need here are true aristocrats, true Englishmen. Let's start by asking, what is an Englishman? Many of you are asking this. I think it's easier if we start by telling you what an Englishman is not.
An Englishman is not a foreigner. That's the first thing you have to understand. Foreigners are tall (or short), speak with an accent, chew gum, and enjoy ice hockey. We, the English, as you can see, are of average height, smoke a pipe, carry a rolled umbrella, go to the best schools, yet remain impervious to knowledge. And, of course, the main thing to remember is that we are gentlemen at all times.
Now, we do have our faults. We are no doubt too decent, too honest and too kind to the Empire countries.
Many of you at this point are probably saying to yourselves that this sounds very anti-Canadian. Let me quickly add that I have lived in this country for twenty-two years, and of all the colonies, Canada is my favourite.
Now, what about the program? Are there enough of these Englishmen around to actually carry out the interbreeding program that we have in mind? Of course, there are not.
Now I've finally mentioned the word--interbreeding. Interbreeding is not the nicest of things to talk about, but in fact it has to be said, because there just aren't enough aristocrats to go around. However, I have travelled to London and spoken to half a dozen who are quite willing to come to Canada and actually interbreed with selected Canadian females.
Now I can feel the tension in the room! The women are all getting very excited. So 1 will quickly add that I'm not an aristocrat, so please don't get hold of me afterwards. I'm just the messenger bringing the news.
I do want to spend some time on the difference between an Englishman and other mortals. You will find that many of the Canadians here, knowing that such a program is about to be undertaken, will now leave this room and start pretending to be English, in the hope that they will be able to get involved. So for the sake of the ladies, I think it is only fair that 1 should show you how you can recognize which one it is you are to get involved with for the future of Canada--naturally not for self pleasure.
I'm going to draw, and lift the board up so that everyone can see. The first thing you have to understand about the English aristocrat is that the true English aristocrat has no chin. Sir Arthur Chetwynd--will you stand up, please. You see--he has no chin. Incidentally, Sir Arthur has told me that he would be glad to give interviews at six o'clock tonight.
Now, here's the aristocrat. He looks something like this, with no chin at all.
Of course there's a reason why he has no chin. Like everything else in breeding, it goes back for a number of years.
The reason why the true aristocrat has no chin goes back to the days of old when knights were bold and rode out to help maidens in distress--although many people say it was the knights who got them into distress in the first place. In those days, and this is an absolute fact which you can check out at the Royal Ontario Museum, knights in England wore suits of armour. And what you will notice, if you look closely at the trouser part of the armour, is that there is no fly. I kid you not. That's a fact. There is no fly in a suit of armour, which meant that once you left the castle there was no way--if you understand what I mean--until you actually got back to the castle. I mean, you can't get off your horse in the middle of a war and start fiddling about behind a tree.
Now, we can imagine knights who went off to war and who came back to the castle, maybe a couple of years later, with their legs crossed in the saddle. Imagine what happened at the end of the Hundred Year War! Then there were people with no chins at all. For they had their chins pulled in like this . . .
So, the fact is that this chinlessness has been passed down and the aristocrat that you see today looks like that.
Now, to warn the women in the room--you are going to be accosted later by many people with pulled-in chins. But there is another way to find out if this is a genuine aristocrat, and that is by his accent. Now, there's also a reason for this.
The English have a channel, going from the nose and the mouth, down through the throat, and in the throat there is a small shape something like a flying saucer. That's the voice box. Surrounding the voice box (and the doctors in this room will bear this out) is what is known as the glottis wall. Now within the glottis wall and around the sound box in an Englishman there are incredibly lovely pieces of muscle, which gently ease the air as it goes down and throw out this delightful sound that you are listening to now.
When you get to a Canadian voice, you have the same channel from the nose and mouth down into the voice box, but in the glottis wall you have these incredibly ugly pieces of gristle. These claw at the air. The sound goes down, it wants to get out, but the mouth is shut, so it comes out the only exit--through the nose--wondering where the hell it is and it says "Eh?" That accounts for the difference in the sounds of the voices.
What can we do about our plan? Is it going to succeed? We set this plan up a couple of years ago, and unfortunately, although the book did fairly well, the plan itself has not succeeded. Many of the aristocrats insisted on seeing pictures, and once they'd seen those they decided they would stay home.
Can this master plan succeed? I'll tell you, it's got to succeed. Canada does need more English. It needs more Germans, and more Chinese, more French and more Italian, because the strength of our country Canada is in the people who live here. Canada is a country with a great past, but it is also a country with a greater present and an even greater future. I just wish people would think about it.
Sure, our pioneers were great. Pierre Berton has told us that they were terrific. But so are our people today. They are also terrific. There are kids with names like Diane Jones who thrilled us in the track and field events at the Olympic Games.
There are kids like Greg Athens, who lives in Kamloops and works like a dog through the summer because he holds two world records in free-style skiing. But we as Canadians couldn't care less.
There are kids like the one who dropped out of high school, here in Toronto. He went to the bank and borrowed seven thousand dollars. He opened a skate-board shop on Yonge Street. He worked like a dog and in six months cleared a hundred thousand dollars. He is now opening a factory with a partner to supply Americans with two thousand skate boards a week.
There are kids like Cindy Nicholas. We knew we had a great swimmer and we went to Folkstone to do a story on her. And when we got there, to the absolute pinnacle for marathon swimmers, the Channel swim, the fishermen, the Cross Channel Association, everyone in the little town of Folkstone could speak of nobody else. They weren't talking about huge Egyptians with entourages of fifty people who come every summer to attempt to swim the English Channel. They said the greatest swimmer in twenty-five years that they have ever seen is Cindy Nicholas, a young kid from Toronto.
We should speak about the doctors, like Dr. Selye, Dr. Heinz Lehmann; about comedians like Yvon Deschamps, who lives in Montreal. So you've never heard of him? I can tell you that for seventeen weeks, seven nights a week, he was a sellout in Montreal. And if that doesn't impress you, I can tell you that this stand-up comedian cleared over two million dollars last year in Paris and Quebec. These are living Canadians, people who many countries in the world would be very proud to call their own.
It's not enough to love Canada like a mistress, and whisper about her in the back alleys. If you're going to love this country, you should shout about it--like a wife you're proud to take out in the daylight. Bring out your thoughts.
My wife and 1 came here in 1957. Those exasperating, dull, lovable, silly, decent, tolerant and generous people--Canadians--took us in. They didn't have to, but they did.
Before I finish, I want to add this one word. I get lots of arguments in the newspaper, and letters, and criticism about what I draw and what I talk about. I don't care. You can curse me. You can swear at me. You can threaten me. You can say what you like. But don't tell me to go home. Because here I am home.
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Col. John G. B. Strathy, C.D., Third Vice-President of The Empire Club of Canada.