Laughter in Paradise
23 Oct 2009
Alastair Sim
Alastair Sim
Older readers may remember a film called “Laughter in Paradise”. An elderly practical joker lies on his deathbed, attended by a nurse who is reading a newspaper at the bedside. Reaching for a box of matches, he lights the bottom of her paper; but the hilarity caused by her subsequent distress is too much for his slender frame and the laughter finishes him off. In his will, he leaves £50,000 to each of his four remaining relatives, but with conditions attached. In order to inherit this windfall – and £50,000 bought a lot when the film was made in 1951 - his spinster sister, who treats her staff with contempt, has to work as a maid and keep the job for a month. A self-effacing bank clerk has to hold up his manager at gun point and force him to hand over the keys to the safe. A gambling playboy has to marry the first woman he meets after the reading of the will; and a respectable retired army officer, played memorably by Alastair Sim, has to commit a crime that carries a custodial sentence of more than 28 days.
The film and its challenges came to mind because, in a few weeks time, I am doing Desert Island Discs. The connection will become clear in a moment.
My interview on a notional desert island is not on Radio 4 with Kirsty Young, but in St Mary Bourne with Bruce Parker. It is to raise funds for my local party and help it meet its challenging quota from Headquarters. Tickets to my surprise have sold out – possibly because a good meal follows the encounter. I haven’t looked on ebay to see whether there is a black market, but there is certainly a waiting list. The show might conceivably go on tour, starting at the Lights in the footsteps of my colleague Ann Widdecombe.
Choosing eight records is an intellectual challenge. On my short list is Charles Penrose and the Laughing Policeman – recorded not long before Laughter in Paradise. Nowadays you don’t meet many laughing policemen, unless you tell them that you were only doing 69 mph on the A303.
But I am thinking of a clause in my will inspired by Laughter in Paradise. To collect whatever is left after whoever is Chancellor of the Exchequer takes his slice, the family may have to comply with one condition. As the curtains in the crematorium close, and the vicar presses the button that propels my coffin gently towards the flames, taking my mortal remains to eternity, my last will and testament may require that, instead of some mournful dirge, the Laughing Policeman should entertain the mourners. Laughter in Paradise indeed – or, more likely after the Daily Telegraph and the Legg Review have passed judgement on MP's - Laughter in Purgatory.
 
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