Howland v Grundy – c’est la guerre

People and Places goes French

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 3 July 1960

FOR one week in the year, the Yorkshire spa of Harrogate puts on a French accent. Out come the tricolours, the bunting, the pavement cafe tables and the striped umbrellas. There are wine tastings and cookery demonstrations, French cabarets and French films. Even a French poodle show.

But for French Week 1960, which opens on Monday, there will be an added attraction — an on-the-spot visit by the entire People and Places team, led by those celebrated Francophiles Bill Grundy and Chris Howland.

“What’s a Francophile?” asks Howland.

Two men sit at an outdoor café table. At the next table, a French policeman. A woman poses in front of them
When I said ‘Look at the curve of those legs, Howland,’ I was talking about the girl, fool – not the tables

“Don’t show your ignorance,” says Grundy. “It’s Latin for a Spanish rasp. You need educating. And if we re going to give the right touch to Wednesday’s programme from Harrogate, the sooner we start teaching you a thing or two the better.”

And that is how they came to be raiding the Granada wardrobe department (for Basque berets and Marseilles type T-shirts), the make-up room (for waxed moustaches and goatee beards), ending up over a cooker opening a tin of snails.

“Of course, eating snails is nothing new to me,” says Bill, spearing them from the tin and lovingly placing them one by one into the shells that come with them.

A man knocks back something from a very small shell, watched by another man
That’s a snail? I thought it was just a small coffee cup

“Remember when you nipped over to visit me in Germany at the end of last year?” asks Chris, who is a top disc jockey on Cologne radio. “It was the time we went for a trip on a Rhine steamer.”

“Ah, yes,” muses Bill. “I remember getting off at the village of Unkel and buying two plates of snails and seven bottles of champagne. What happened next?”

“You spent the rest of the journey imitating an excitable Frenchman in front of a boatload of 600 puzzled passengers,” says Chris.

“It got rather embarrassing because most of them knew who I was but couldn’t understand how I had got mixed up with this ‘nana’ who was threatening to hit me over the head with a champagne bottle and screaming at me in a language he couldn’t speak.”

“I could,” objects Bill, who by now is filling the shells with a butter parsley-garlic mixture. “I’ll have you know that I can say My grandmother’s ear-trumpet has been struck by lightning without the trace of an accent.”

“Say it,” commands Chris.

“My grandmother’s ear-trumpet has been struck by lightning,” recites Bill in English, without batting an eyelid.

Two men look in the mirror, adjusting costume and makeup
Howland, I wouldn’t have known you. It’s the excuse I’ve been wanting for years

As the snails go in the oven to sizzle away in their aromatic sauce, the bitter friends, as they are known to the People and Places team, sit back to debate the form of Wednesday’s programme, which will come from the gaily-decorated, open-air market in the centre of Harrogate.

“I’m getting excited about meeting Maria Léa, the girl who heads the French cabaret,” says Bill. “She looks a peach.”

“I’m more interested in the French can-can girls,” says Chris.

Maria Léa
Maria Léa – one of the reasons for having France

“Sorry to disappoint you,” says Bill, pleased to air his superior knowledge, “but it’s only the can-can that’s French, not the girls. They’re as English as you are.”

“Let me tell you I have French blood in my veins,” protests Howland. “My ancestors came over during the French Revolution.”

“In that case, we ought to try you out with the French folklore group that’s coming to Harrogate,” says Bill, licking his lips as he lifts the snails out of the oven. “They dance a polka on stilts.”

“Is that possible?”

“Of course it’s possible. Their ancestors were shepherds who took to wearing stilts to keep an dye on their straying flocks. What did your ancestors do?”

“They were troubadours. They sang — and no one ever tried to stop them. People were nicer in those days,” says Chris, recalling the long standing feud about the exercise of the Howland vocal chords.

They move to the dining table, with Grundy instructing Howland in the gentle art of snail-eating as it is done in the better French families.

“Very clever,” murmurs Chris, admiring the swift manipulations of the Grundy fork as it probes shell after shell. “You must know France very well.”

“True,” says Bill. “I once spent a whole week there. In Paris. That was when I was a geologist. And the whole time was devoted to discussing a project for drilling oil in the Sahara.”

A general view of Harrogate’s “Latin Quarter”

“In what language?” asks Chris.

“French,” says Bill.

“And what was the result?” asks Chris.

“We lost the contract,” says Bill.

“Oh,” says Chris, and tactfully changes the subject to his favourite topic of conversation — Chris Howland.

“Perhaps,” he says, “the producer will let me sing my current German hit record, because it’s very appropriate. It’s called Das Hab’ Ich in Paris Gelernt, which means ‘That’s what I learnt in Paris’.”

“But you’ve never been there,” says Bill.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” answers Chris. “I admit I only stayed 20 minutes between trains, but I proved a fast learner.”

“Then you’re out of practice tonight,” smiles Bill as he scoffs the last plump snail, leaving Chris nothing but a pile of empty shells.

“I don’t wish to be cruel.” says Chris, “but sometimes you make me wish that your grandmother’s ear-trumpet really had been struck by lightning.”

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