It Was The Way He Told Them
Deaglán de Bréadún
In the darkest days of the Northern troubles, there was one constant source of light relief. I refer to the wit and humour of Belfast comedian Frank Carson who has just died at the age of 85 years.
The only time I met him was in London in late August, 2005, when I was covering a Mass in honour of former MP and ex-SDLP leader Gerry Fitt, who had passed away.
I was in conversation after the ceremony with then-leader of the SDLP, Mark Durkan, when Carson approached to tell us an hilarious and clean, but very politically-incorrect, joke, which I won’t repeat here.
Even at a memorial Mass, he could not refrain from wisecracks. Fitt would have appreciated it, though, as he was quite a wit himself. Indeed, an anecdote was told at the Mass about an occasion when he was late for a very-crowded flight to London and the House of Commons but managed to get himself into the spare seat in the cockpit.
About half-way across, Fitt got the urge to go to the loo which was at the back of the plane. He opened the door of the cockpit only to be faced with a startled Ian Paisley sitting in the front row.
Quick as a flash and observing the expression on Paisley’s face, Fitt said: “Don’t worry, I’ve left it on automatic pilot,”
Even when Carson’s material wasn’t innately hilarious, he still made you laugh. In his own words: “It’s the way I tell ‘em.”
There was an occasional surreal touch: “Did you ever notice that, when you ring a wrong number – they’re always in!”
A TV documentary shown a little while back told of his service with the Britiah Parachute Regiment in Palestine during the period leading to Israeli independence. He was on duty the day the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was blown-up with a very high number of casualties – 91 dead including a number of Jewish people – and Carson was one of those who had to deal with the horrific aftermath.
I have stayed in the King David a number of times and was intrigued that a video was running in my room about the bombing featuring, as I recall, interviews with the bombers. Menachem Begin was then head of the Irgun, which carried out the attack. He later won the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Who was it said that “today’s ‘terrorist’ is tomorrow’s ‘statesman’”?