Series 2, Episode 16: Poet McTeagle
VOICE OVER John Cleese
McTEAGLE Terry Jones
LASSIE Eric Idle
LIMBO John Cleese
IAN Eric Idle
DAVID Michael Palin
HIGHLANDER John Cleese
DOCTOR Michael Palin
(Camera pans away revealing a rather rocky highland landscape. As camera pans across country we hear inspiring Scottish music.)
Voice Over: From these glens and scars, the sound of the coot and the moorhen is seldom absent. Nature sits in stern mastery over these rocks and crags. The rush of the mountain stream, the bleat of the sheep, and the broad, clear Highland skies, reflected in turn and 1och … (at this moment we pick up a highland gentleman in kilt and tam o’shanter clutching a knobkerry in one hand and a letter in the other)… form a breathtaking backdrop against which Ewan McTeagle writes such poems as ‘Lend us a quid till the end of the week’.
(Cut to crofter’s cottage. McTeagle sits at the window writing. We zoom in very slowly on him us he writes.)
Voice Over: But it was with more simple, homespun verses that McTeagle’s unique style first flowered.
McTeagle: (voice over) If you could see your way to lending me sixpence. I could at least buy a newspaper. That’s not much to ask anyone.
Voice Over: One woman who remembers McTeagle as a young friend – Lassie O’Shen.
(Cut to Lassie O’Shen – a young sweet innocent Scots girl – she is valiantly trying to fend off the sexual advances of the sound man. Two other members of the crew pull him out of shot.)
Lassie: Mr MeTeagle wrote me two poems, between the months of January and April 1969…
Interviewer: Could you read us one?
Lassie: Och, I dinna like to… they were kinda personal… but I will.
(she has immediately a piece of paper in her hand from which she reads) ‘To Ma Own beloved Lassie. A poem on her I7th Birthday. Lend us a couple of bob fill Thursday. I’m absolutely skint. But I’m expecting a postal order and I can pay you back as soon as it comes. Love Ewan.’
(There is a pause. She looks up.)
Sound Man: (voice over) Beautiful.
(Another pause. The soundman leaps on her and pulls her to the ground. Cut to abstract trendy arts poetry programme set. Intense critic sits on enormous inflatable see-through pouffe. Caption on screen: ‘ST JOHN LIMBO — POETRY EXPERT’)
Limbo: (intensely) Since then, McTeagle has developed and widened his literary scope. Three years ago he concerned himself with quite small sums – quick bits of ready cash: sixpences, shillings, but more recently he has turned his extraordinary literary perception to much larger sums – fifteen shillings, £4. I2.6d … even nine guineas … But there is still nothing to match the huge sweep … the majestic power of what is surely his greatest work: ‘Can I have fifty pounds to mend the shed?’.
(Pan across studio to a stark poetry-reading set. A single light falls on an Ian McKellan figure in black leotard standing gazing dramatically into space. Camera crabs across studio until it is right underneath him. He speaks the lines with great intensity.)
Ian: Can I have £50 to mend the shed? I’m right on my uppers. I can pay you back. When this postal order comes from Australia. Honestly. Hope the bladder trouble’s getting better. Love, Ewan.
(Cut to remote Scottish landscape, craggy and windtorn and desolate. In stark chiaroscuro against the sky we see McTeagle standing beside a 1onely pillar box, writing postcards. The sun setting behind him.)
Limbo: (voice over) There seems to be no end to McTeagle’s poetic invention. ‘My new cheque book hasn’t arrived’ was followed up by the brilliantly allegorical ‘Whaes twenty quid to the bloody Midland Bank?’ and more recently his prizewinning poem to the Arts Council: ‘Can you lend me one thousand quid?’
(Cut to David Mercer figure in his study at a desk. Cpation on screen: ‘A VERY GOOD PLAYWRIGHT’)
David: I think what McTcagle’s pottery… er… poetry is doing is rejecting all the traditional cliches of modern poetry. No longer do we have to be content with Keats’s ‘Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ and Milton’s ‘Can you lend us two bob till Tuesday’…
(Cut to long shot of McTeagle walking through countryside.)
McTeagle: (voice over) Oh gie to me a shillin’ for some fags and I’ll pay yet back on Thursday, but if you wait till Saturday I’m expecting a divvy from the Harpenden Building Society… (continues muttering indistinctly)
(He walks out of shot past a glen containing several stuffed animals, one of which explodes. A highland spokesman stands up into shot. Superimposed caption on screen: ‘A HIGHLAND SPOKESMAN’)
Highlander: As a Highlander I would like to complain about some inaccuracies in the preceding film about the poet Ewan McTeagle. Although his name was quite clearly given as McTeagle, he was throughout wearing the Cameron tartan. Also I would like to point out that the BALPA spokesman who complained about aeronautical inaccuracies was himself wearing a captain’s hat, whereas he only had lieutenant’s stripes on the sleeves of his jacket. Also, in the Inverness pantomime last Christmas, the part of Puss in Boots was played by a native of New Guinea with a plate in her lip, so that every time Dick Whittington gave her a French kiss, he got the back of his throat scraped.
(A doctor’s head appears out from under the kilt.)
Doctor: Look, would you mind going away, I’m trying to examine this man. (he goes back under the kilt; a slight pause; he re-emerges) It’s – er – it’s all right – I am a doctor. Actually, I’m a gynaecologist… but this is my lunchhour.