Beachcomber (pen name)

Beachcomber is a nom de plume that has been used by several journalists writing a long-running humorous column on the Daily Express. It was originated in 1917 by Major John Bernard Arbuthnot MVO as his signature on the column, titled ‘By the Way’. The name Beachcomber was then passed to D. B. Wyndham Lewis in 1919 and, in turn, to J. B. Morton, who wrote the column till 1975. It was later revived by William Hartston, current author of the column.


"By the Way" column

"By the Way" was originally a column in The Globe, consisting of unsigned humorous pieces; P. G. Wodehouse was assistant editor of the column from August 1903 and editor from August 1904 to May 1909, during which time he was assisted by Herbert Westbrook.[1] After the Globe's closure, it was reestablished as a society news column in the Daily Express from 1917 onwards, initially written by social correspondent Major John Arbuthnot, who invented the name "Beachcomber".

After Arbuthnot was promoted to deputy editor, it was taken over sometime in 1919 by Wyndham-Lewis, who reinvented it as an outlet for his wit and humour. It was then passed to Morton during 1924, though it is likely there was a period when they overlapped. Morton wrote the column until 1975; it was revived in January 1996 [2] and continues today, written by William Hartston. The column is unsigned except by "Beachcomber" and it was not publicly known that Morton or Wyndham-Lewis wrote it until the 1930s. The name is mainly associated with Morton, who has been credited as an influence by Spike Milligan amongst others. Morton introduced the recurring characters and continuing stories that were a major feature of the column during his 51-year run.

The format of the column was a random assortment of small paragraphs which were otherwise unconnected. These could be anything, such as:

Morton's other interest, France, was occasionally represented by epic tales of his rambling walks through the French countryside. These were not intended as humour.

"By the Way" was popular with the readership, and of course, this is one of the reasons it lasted so long. Its style and randomness could be off-putting, however, and it is safe to say the humour could be something of an acquired taste. Oddly, one of the column's greatest opponents was the Express newspaper's owner, Lord Beaverbrook, who had to keep being assured the column was indeed funny. A prominent critic was George Orwell, who frequently referred to him in his essays and diaries as "A Catholic Apologist" and accused him of being "silly-clever", in line with his criticisms of G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Ronald Knox and Wyndham-Lewis.

But By the Way was one of the few features kept continuously running in the often seriously reduced Daily Express throughout World War II, when Morton's lampooning of Hitler, including the British invention of bracerot to make the Nazi's trousers fall down at inopportune moments, was regarded as valuable for morale.

The column appeared daily until 1965 when it was changed to weekly. It was cancelled in 1975 and revived as a daily piece in the early 1990s. It continues to the present day in much the same format, but is now entitled "Beachcomber", not "By the Way".

Recurrent characters

Other media

The Will Hay film Boys Will Be Boys (1935) was set at Morton's Narkover school.

According to Spike Milligan, the columns were an influence on the comedic style of his radio series, The Goon Show.

In 1969, Milligan based a BBC television series named The World of Beachcomber on the columns. A small selection was issued on a 1971 LP and a 2-cassette set of the series' soundtrack was made available in the late 1990s.

In 1989, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first of three series based on Morton's work. This featured Richard Ingrams as Beachcomber, John Wells as Prodnose, Patricia Routledge and John Sessions. The compilations prepared by Mike Barfield. Series 1 was also made available as a 2-cassette set.


Books featuring Wyndham-Lewis' work

Books featuring Morton's work

Original collections

Later omnibus editions


  1. ^ P.G. Wodehouse: A Portrait of a Master, David A. Jasen, Music Sales Group, 2002, ISBN 0-8256-7275-9
  2. ^ "Beachcomber lives again". Daily Express. 5 January 1996. p. 2.
  3. ^ One story attributes it to the fact that he once commanded a canal barge.
  4. ^ There is some inconsistency about her maiden name. One correspondent calls her "Florrie Palmer as was", but the narrator says that she was a Gurricle, from Crabhampton.
  5. ^ J. B. Morton (1989) [1963]. Michael Frayn (ed.). The Best of Beachcomber. ISBN 0-434-79706-5.

External links

Categories: Collective pseudonyms | British humorists

Information as of: 07.06.2020 10:31:32 CEST

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