- For the founding father of tiki restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, see Don the Beachcomber.
Beachcomber was a nom de plume used by surrealist humorous columnists D. B. Wyndham-Lewis and John Bingham Morton as authors of a Daily Express column called "By the Way". Other authors who used the name were Major John William Arbuthnott MVO and William Hartston.
"By The Way" in print
The "By The Way" column was originally a society news column, published from 1917 onwards, written by social correspondent Major John Arbuthnott who invented the name "Beachcomber". It was taken over by Wyndham-Lewis sometime in 1919 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 the early 1990s and continues today, written by William Hartston. The column is unsigned except by "Beachcomber" and it was not publicly known that Morton (or, come to that, Wyndham-Lewis) wrote it until the 1930s. Although there have been three humorous "Beachcomber" columnists to date, 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
- court reports, often involving Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarves before Mr Justice Cocklecarrot
- angry exchanges of letters between characters such as Florence McGurgle and her dissatisfied boarders
- interruptions from "Prodnose", representing the public, who would then be roundly cursed by the author and kicked out
- installments of serials that could stop, restart from earlier, be abandoned altogether or change direction abruptly without warning
- parodies of poetry or drama, particularly of the extremely "literary" type such as Ibsen
- news reports from around the country
or just anything that the author thought funny at the time. 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 very popular with the readership, 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 Express Newspaper's owner, Lord Beaverbrook, who had to keep being assured the column was indeed funny. Another prominent critic was George Orwell but "By The Way" was one of the only features kept continuously running in the often seriously reduced Daily Express throughout World War II, where 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 was daily until 1965 when it was changed to weekly. It was then cancelled in 1975 and revived as a daily piece in the early 1990s where it continues to the present day in much the same format.
In 1969, Spike Milligan based a BBC television series named The World of Beachcomber on the columns. According to Milligan, the columns had been an influence on the comedic style of his radio series, The Goon Show. 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 1994, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first of three series based on Morton's work. This featured Richard Ingrams, John Wells, Patricia Routledge and John Sessions from compilations prepared by Mike Barfield. Series 1 was also made available as a 2-cassette set.
Books featuring Wyndham-Lewis' work
- A London Farrago (1922)
Books featuring Morton's work
- Mr Thake (1929)
- Mr Thake Again
- By The Way (1931)
- Morton's Folly
- The Adventures of Mr Thake
- Mr Thake and the Ladies
- Stuff and Nonsense
- Sideways Through Borneo
- A Diet of Thistles
- A Bonfire of Weeds
- I Do Not Think So
- Fool's Paradise
- Captain Foulenough and Company
- Here and Now
- The Misadventures of Dr Strabismus
- The Tibetan Venus
- Merry-Go-Round (1958)
Later omnibus editions
- The Best of Beachcomber (ed. Michael Frayn, 1963)
- Beachcomber: the works of J. B. Morton (ed. Richard Ingrams, 1974, Muller, London)
- Cram Me With Eels, the Best of Beachcomber's Unpublished Humor (ed. Mike Barfield, 1995, Mandarin, London (ISBN 074931947X))
The term beachcomber also refers to someone who searches along a shore, generally for salable items such as shells or coins.