U is for Stanley Unwin

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Stanley UnwinIf there is a universal language misunderstood by all it’s gobbledegook and there was no greater exponent of the art than ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin.

Unwin was born in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1911 since his parents had emigrated there in the early 1900s. But his father died in 1914 and Unwin and his mother returned to the UK.

By 1919, Unwin had been sent to the National Children’s Home at Congleton in Cheshire. In the late 1920s he studied radio, television and languages at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.

He got a job as a BBC engineer and was stationed at the Borough Hill transmitting station in Daventry and he moved to nearby Long Buckby with his wife and young daughter.

Professor UnwinIt was for his children that he developed his ‘Unwinese‘, a mangled version of English with the odd intelligible word that gave the listener a vague understanding of the meaning and it might have gone no further than a way of enlivening bedtime stories, but for a chance broadcast.

Unwin was working for the BBC in Birmingham and while testing some equipment he joined in a spoof commentary about an imaginary sport called ‘Fasche’. The recording was played back to two BBC producers, who added some sound effects.

The recording was eventually broadcast on the Mirror of the Month programme and after receiving a good response led to another sketch in which Unwin was interviewed as a man from Atlantis being asked about life in the sunken city.

Stanley UnwinHis very first fan letter came from none other than the great comedienne Joyce Grenfell and encouraged him to break into show business at the grand old age of forty.

Unwin appeared with many of the comedy greats of the time, including Frankie Howerd, Ted Ray, June Whitfield and Kenneth Connor and he would pop up on all sorts of programmes in my youth.

As Wikipedia explains: ‘Unwinese, also known as “Basic Engly Twenty Fido”, was a special, ornamented and mangled form of English in which many of the words were corrupted in a playful and humorous way. Unwin’s performances could be hilarious yet disorienting although the meaning and context were always conveyed in a disguised and picturesque style.’

Unwin GraveHe is thought to have been a significant influence on the two books by John Lennon – In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.

Unwin performed regularly until the early 1990s when his appearances became less frequent and he died in 2002. He had prepared his own valediction which read:

‘Goodly Byelode loyal peeploders! Now all gatherymost to amuse it and have a tilty elbow or a nice cuffle-oteedee – Oh Yes!’ 

There is more evidence of his ‘Unwinese‘ to be found on his gravestone above and below is a sample of Unwin and his Unwinese from the 1961 film Carry on Regardless.

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11 comments… add one

  • Roger Green 5th December 2012, 1:00 am

    This guy is a master!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

    Reply
  • Leslie 5th December 2012, 1:41 am

    I have actually heard of him! UBER talented!

    Leslie
    abcw team

    Reply
  • Oakland Daily Photo 5th December 2012, 1:43 am

    Perfect for U. Did not know about the Professor until now. Love the success-late-in-life arc to this story.

    Reply
  • Kate 5th December 2012, 4:55 am

    A UNIQUE biography!! Kate, ABC Team 

    Reply
  • john gray 5th December 2012, 9:34 am

    didn’t he even “appear” in the puppet show JOE 90 in the 1960s’?
    I am sure he was in it?

    Reply
  • Trevor Rowley 5th December 2012, 6:22 pm

    Most of us chaps (and chapesses) of a certain age were entertained (confused more like) by Professor Stanley Unwin with his own unique style of gobbledegook so I suppose we became somewhat accustomed to it but I shudder to think what our colonial cousins are/were able to make of it all. Some of our comedians have certainly been downright potty over the years – look no further than Harry “Segoon” Secombe, Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan. They really were as mad as hatters. Doddy is about the last of that special breed of potty Brits.

    Reply
  • Bina Besiege 6th December 2012, 9:30 am

    He was surely a genius! Today I don’t think there is anyone on telly who can do a bit of Stanley Unwin. Jim Davidson used to do a bit but that was not up-to the mark….

    Reply
  • Cakehole Pudding 7th December 2012, 1:16 am

    I understand that Stanley Unwin was tutor to both Cameron and Osborne at Oxford…Thanks for reminding me of him. Most conversation is about as meaningful as a dollop of Unwinese.

    Reply
  • Francisca 7th December 2012, 6:30 pm

    Was there really a method to his madness? :-D Amazing performance! But I was hoping to catch on to the pattern of language, but found none,

    Reply
    • Charkon 23rd March 2013, 12:08 am

      If you didn’t find the pattern then you haven’t listened.

      You most adjusty the eardrobes and listlenly to morm of the basi Engly Twenty Fido and with greaterest carefully. It is an alltogebber joyleful and delightery amusit. Then and only them can you understoob and appreciakers this grape and erudi langy. Remembrit – poultice makes prefect!! I hopeit this explaims everythong and is of some helplode and, of courst, assisty……if you get my meal. Oh yes, indeediho.

      Reply
  • Jokers 11th April 2013, 10:44 pm

    Incredibole! One has always beel a grape fanlode of the basic Engly Twenty Fido and oners has actually done a studybole of the verblodes, nounlodes, wordflows of this wonderbole langy and meals of communicakers etc., etc. As Dr Jonathan Miller the woldfamey and erudi actor tready the boards there / comediole and directy has already cakeholed: ” The basic Engly Twenty Fido is a truebold langy and withit all the correct structurelode of a truebold langy nok just gobblyhoolihodee.”
    So there we haveit. The basic Engly Twenty Fido is a langy in its own ripe.
    Oh yes! Indeediho!! Deep joy!!

    Reply

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