Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Weep, Pontius, For Thou Art Become Noddy, a dirge of excruciating length by Mavis Goosebeak. It is a curious work, based on the conceit that Pontius Pilate was reincarnated as Enid Blyton’s little wooden boy. For the poetess, however, this appears to have been more than a mere conceit. She apparently believed it to be true, having been vouchsafed a vision during a session of faffing about with Tarot cards, magic crystals, sparrow oracles, runes, spells, dippy sticks and similar mumbo jumbo. “Vouchsafed”, by the way, is the sort of word that crops up with distressing frequency in the dirge.
Miss Goosebeak seems not to have considered what became of Pontius Pilate’s “ectoplasmic spirit essence” between the governor of Judaea’s death circa 37 AD and Noddy’s first appearance almost two thousand years later in 1949 AD. Nor did she ever address the inconvenient fact that the wooden boy is a fictional character. Challenged on such matters in radio interviews, her usual tactic was to flail her arms in a melodramatic gesture, thus deliberately knocking over her complimentary cup of tea, spilling the boiling hot beverage into the tweedy lap of her interviewer. After the subsequent kerfuffle she would babble about the tea leaves now visible at the bottom of the cup, explaining how their disposition revealed other mystic insights which might become the subject of another dirge of excruciating length, although so far as is known she never published anything else.
Interpretations of the dirge have varied. That trendy with-it churchman of the nineteen-fifties, Canon Nobby Fabgear, described it as a work of “deep Christian morality”, arguing that to be reborn as a fictional wooden being was a just fate for an imperfect, ethically compromised, all-too-human Judaean governor of the first century. He expounded this view in a series of articles in the colour supplements, at a time when such articles used to appear in the colour supplements.
Several more conservative clergy took a different view, excoriating Mavis Goosebeak for cheapening the Gospels and indulging in pagan practices with Tarot cards, magic crystals, sparrow oracles, runes, spells, dippy sticks and similar mumbo jumbo. She was accused of the ritual slaughter of goats and hens and of being in league with the Great God Pan, who – in some contemporary colour supplement cartoons – bore a distinct resemblance to Canon Fabgear.
In the teeth of all the controversy, the dirge itself was little-read, not least because it is virtually unreadable. Yet it gained a new lease of life late in the decade, when it was taken up with great enthusiasm by the beatniks. Goateed hepcats in black polo neck jumpers took to reciting the dirge at “happenings”, and there is an amusing account of Mavis Goosebeak’s attendance at one such event.
“It really fried my wig, daddy-o,” wrote the beatnik entrepreneur Herman Hornrims in his memoir, “When that crazy old biddy turned up at the espresso bar for a reading of Weep, Pontius, For Thou Art Become Noddy. She kept demanding to be given a pot of tea and a cup and saucer and, hey, we had to explain it was like an espresso bar, you dig? There was this cool cat with her dressed up like a priest, except he looked like the Great God Pan. Mavis got so mad she flailed her arms in a melodramatic gesture and spilled a cup of espresso in my lap.”
Some reports have Bernard Levin also present that night, incognito, though he always denied it.
The dirge has long been out of print, but Mavis Goosebeak, remarkably, is still with us, sharp as a button, living in a nursing home at a dilapidated seaside resort. Every afternoon she takes out the Tarot cards, magic crystals, sparrow oracles, runes, spells, dippy sticks and similar mumbo jumbo, and summons ethereal insights. It is thought she is trying to work out what became of the ectoplasmic spirit essence of Pontius Pilate after Noddy’s final appearance in 1963 AD and Enid Blyton’s death in 1968 AD. Her latest theory, intriguingly, again has a connection to Bernard Levin, for she is groping through the mystical mists towards the conviction that Pilate / Noddy is now inhabiting the body of Levin’s one-time inamorata, Arianna Huffington.