THIS MONTH’S PARODY (May) How to get on in society by Sir John Betjeman

How To Get On In Society by Sir John Betjeman (1958)

This delicious mockery of the nouveau-riche British middle-class is spot on. Betjeman has, it seems, made a note of all the pretentious vocabulary he has ever heard used by the likes of Mrs Bouquet and put them into the mouth of a (presumably) female narrator. Many of these solecisms were, of course, noted by Nancy Mitford in her ‘U and Non-U’. If you’re wondering how the lady of the house betrays herself… ‘phone’ instead of ‘telephone’, ‘cook’ instead of the person’s name, ‘serviettes’ instead of ‘napkins’, ‘toilet’ instead of ‘lavatory’ or ‘loo’, ‘lounge’ instead of ‘drawing-room’, and so forth.

It’s difficult to write a funny parody when the original itself is funny. A few have succeeded, as you’ll see below.

 How To Get On In Society

Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It’s ever so close in the lounge dear,
But the vestibule’s comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me.

Now here is a fork for your pastries
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know that I wanted to ask you –
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I’m afraid the preserve’s full of stones;
Beg pardon, I’m soiling the doilies
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.

 How To Get On In Society

by “Mopev”

(Betjeman judged this to be better than his own)

 Would you care for a smoke or a sherry?

The cocktail cabinet’s there.

No, the savoury spread and the vitamin bread’s

In the cubby hole under the stair.


Has Uncle gone out on his cycle?

He left making terrible sounds

Saying “Just what the medico ordered.”

I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the grounds.


We’ve several new gnomes in the rockery

And his eyesight’s not dreadfully strong.

Bring the flash from my handbag. Good gracious,

He’s had a mishap! Hark, the gong.


Just leave your bootees in the hallway

Till the cloakroom is free, there’s a pet.

My friend left his mac in the dining recess

And ruined our condiment set!


Yes, this costume was made for my Auntie.

She said I must have a new gown.

I wear any old bags in the country,

But one has to be soignée in town.


Also… by “C.S.W”

Late dinner – DJ – at half-seven,

(There are gaspers and lights in the box),

Meanwhile, squattez-vous with the mags, dear,

And a glass of port-wine and some chocs.


How to get on in Society, 2011

Martin Parker (2011) (see website)

 Top up my spray tan, Darren,
then phone up Hello and OK
and gold-plate the taps in the toilet.
The Beckhams are coming to stay!

I’ve just origamied the Andrex.
Have I time for another tattoo
in spurious Chinese, with dragons,
or maybe a blatant FU?

I’ve had my nails covered in glitter
and my eyelids and midriff as well.
My extensions are almost the shade of my hair
which is rigid with Superdrug gel.

But it’s hard for a girl to look “current”
when Manolos are something she lacks
and her nipple ring’s only nine carat
and it’s hours since she last had a wax.

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