“Bayeux Christmas Presents Early” (E37)

  • Originally printed: Life Magazine, December 1, 1927
  • First reprinted in: Chips Off the Old Benchley
  • Unable to Access Original Text at This Time – Benchley Data will analyze any excisions/amendments when Life 1927 enters the Public Domain (in 2023)
  • Original Byline: Not Available


True to its title – rooted in the Vicious Circle’s patented portmanteau patois – this festive bauble careens from concept to concept through a series of dissociative leaps. Given the announced subject matter, experienced Benchley readers would almost certainly have been expecting to encounter a little good-natured tugging at the tired threads of medieval mise en tapis, along with some anachronistic agonizing over the problem of what to buy the liege lord who has everything (including a rainy new realm). But the mysterious transatlantic transposition of a strip of this Old World wonder to the New Jersey suburbs (if Bayeux, NJ is, in fact, Bayonne) comes out of nowhere, like those Golden Plates unearthed by Joseph Smith in upstate New York. Then Benchley hefts that old oaken bucket (see passage quoted below) and we get a genuine splash of dementia praecox in our collective faces.

The second half of the piece proceeds along more conventional lines, with the author taking pot shots (or is that pot sherds?) at the astigmatic aesthetics of Pre-Renaissance Europe; but they’re fun pot shots, and well-deserved, in the bargain.

Favourite Moment:
’Going home for Christmas?’ must have been the question on all lips, framed in probably the worst Norman-English ever heard. ‘Noël’ they probably called it. The old oaken bucket that hung in Noël – to put it badly.

“Bang Into 1932” (E35)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, February 6, 1932
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


Bang indeed. 1932 finds our media critic in fine Fawkesian form as he tears into a new outbreak of nationalist hysteria, this time focused on the Pacific. Naturally, Benchley finds Hearst’s blowhard organs (Journal, American and Mirror) in the vanguard of this crusade to foment anti-Japanese sentiment, but the issue takes on additional urgency when more cautious papers like the New York Times see fit to wade into the miasma stirred up by fantasies of a potential “race war” in Hawaii. The triggering incident for this escalation of editorial blood pressures around the country appears to have been a random street assault dubbed “The Honolulu Murder Case”. Fawkes disdains delving into the details of the case, keying his analysis to the wild jingoistic oats sown from made to order material which involved “national honor, race hatred, Anchors Aweigh, and a multitude of unprintable, but easily indicated, details of criminal assault.”

The author links the Mirror’s point of view on this case to an approving editorial on Lynch Law which appeared in the paper on the same day as its puerile Pacific reportage (January 12, 1932). Fawkes comes right out and calls the Hearst entity a Klan paper, or just about; but he baits his wryest barb for the Times, which “touched a new low in news value” with a non-story about Honolulu residents Mr. and Mrs. William Laurens Van Alen, who called some relatives in Pennsylvania to tell them that they were fine and nothing had happened to them.

Moving on from the sabre-rattlers, Benchley heckles the holiday editions of various papers all attempting to convince their readers that every American woke up happy and well fed on Christmas morning, 1931, even if there were a few less presents under the tree that year. We also get some animus aimed at yet another totally unnecessary addition to the roster of Sunday papers (the ever-offensive Mirror) and a discussion of the miserable state of collective bargaining in the journalistic field, where all glory comes posthumously.

The final paragraphs of the piece deal with The Journal’s odd write-up on Democratic Presidential hopeful Newton D. Baker, which neglected to inform its readers of the politician’s revised 1932 stance against joining the League of Nations. Of course, since this statement was made at a press conference, every other paper in America splashed the news on page 1, as Baker had been an ally of Woodrow Wilson and was expected to be at odds with Hearst’s preferred candidate (isolationist John Nance Garner) on this issue. Read multiple papers, Fawkes concludes, no matter how much it hurts.

Favourite Moment:
“A good reporters’ union might suggest that a little more money, or a little more security, during life would be welcomed in exchange for half a column of obituary recognition, but a good reporters’ union seems to be out of the question, Journalism being a Career and not a Job.”

“Back in Line” (E32)

  • Originally printed: Liberty Magazine, November 22, 1930
  • First reprinted in: No Poems; Or Around the World Backwards and Sideways (1932)
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown


Your postage may vary on this one, which has been reprinted no less than 5 times. An anti-systematic thinker in every sense of that term, Benchley’s pen could sometimes stumble a little too stolidly into the American grain, producing flaccid, Paul Harvey style kvetching about bureaucracy, taxation and the government. I’m sure many readers appreciate the respite from cosmic irony afforded by these hard headed little salvos against the temporal tyrannies of the Leviathan state, but I could do without them.

This particular piece takes on the “Simon Says” sadism of post office parcel regulations, and while RB gets in a few decent jabs against the machine, the litany rarely rises very far above the level of imaginative amplitude one associates with a vindictive Yelp poster.

Favourite Moment:
“Although bundles of old unpaid bills are about all anyone will be sending this Christmas, it doesn’t make any difference to the P.O. Department. A package is a package, and you must suffer for it.”

“Another Uncle Edith Christmas Yarn” (E18)

  • Originally printed: DAC News, December 1929
  • First reprinted in: The Treasurer’s Report, and Other Aspects of Community Singing
  • Also Reprinted in: Benchley Beside Himself; The Benchley Roundup; and A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas (naturally)
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley (Drawings by Gluyas Williams)


As first seen in the 1920 “Bedtime Stories” centered on Georgie (E6) and Lillian (E7), any Benchleyan raconteur who aims to entertain the romper room set is stepping into a theatre of war. (A nautical war, in this case.) Like kindly Old Mother Nature before him, Uncle Edith is not above using Cossack methods to keep his audience in line. In fact, his leaky sea chronicle seems more like a pretext for administering drubbings and clapping hecklers in irons than an attempt to edify or enthrall.

The yarn within the yarn, such as it is, involves Edith’s mystifying mid-Atlantic meeting with a ghost ship full of sleeping Hessian troopers – the mystification due chiefly to the old salt pork’s dead calm approach to the science of narrative momentum. However, just as this miserable tale threatens to settle into something like a permanent trench, three-year old Philip, the secret hero of the piece, breaks free from the brig and steals Edith’s thunder with a rousing account of his thrust up San Juan Hill with Teddy and his Rough Riders. Thus, Uncle Edith is decidedly on his back foot (or perhaps, as Marian suggests, over backwards with his feet in the air) when he snaps the immortal rejoinder: “Who the hell said anything about Christmas?”

Favourite Moment:
“Anyway, I do know that we sailed from Nahant on the fourteenth March.”
“What are you – French?” asked little Philip. “The fourteenth March.”

Reprint Notes:

  • In all cases, the piece was reprinted under the title “Another Uncle Edith Christmas Story”.
  • The Treasurer’s Report reprint excises Little Philip’s entire battle saga, drastically altering the balance of power between Uncle Edith and his antagonistic auditors and keeping the avuncular avenger firmly at the center of piece. Much more firmly than he deserves.