Sunday, January 6, 2013

Have Some Madeira, M'Dear

One of the postcards included in the New Year’s Eve post a few days ago was the following: 

I asked whether this image seemed creepy and predatory to anyone else.

Byter Sue sent me an email “Yes creepy! And akin to a song my Daddy used to sing.” Sue sent me a link to the lyrics of a song called “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear.” 

That song and its lyrics typify that attitudes change with time and from culture to culture. 

The lyrics: 

She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice 
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen 
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice 
He was base, he was bad, he was mean 
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat 
To view his collection of stamps 
And he said as he hastened to put out the cat 
The wine, his cigar and the lamps 

Have some madeira, m'dear 
You really have nothing to fear 
I'm not trying to tempt you, that wouldn't be right 
You shouldn't drink spirits at this time of night 
Have some madeira, m'dear 
It's really much nicer than beer 
I don't care for sherry, one cannot drink stout 
And port is a wine I can well do without 
It's simply a case of chacun a son gout 
Have some madeira, m'dear 

Unaware of the wiles of the snake-in-the-grass 
And the fate of the maiden who topes 
She lowered her standards by raising her glass 
Her courage, her eyes and his hopes 
She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did 
He promptly refilled it again 
And he said as he secretly carved one more notch 
On the butt of his gold-headed cane 

Have some madeira, m'dear, I've got a small cask of it here 
And once it's been opened, you know it won't keep 
Do finish it up, it will help you to sleep 
Have some madeira, m'dear, it's really an excellent year 
Now if it were gin, you'd be wrong to say yes 
The evil gin does would be hard to assess 
Besides it's inclined to affect me prowess 
Have some madeira, m'dear 

Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said 
With her antepenultimate breath 
"Oh my child, should you look on the wine that is red 
Be prepared for a fate worse than death" 
She let go her glass with a shrill little cry 
Crash! tinkle! it fell to the floor 
When he asked, "What in Heaven?" she made no reply, 
Up her mind, and a dash for the door 

Have some madeira, m'dear, rang out down the hall loud and clear 
A tremulous cry that was filled with despair 
As she paused to take breath in the cool midnight air 
Have some madeira, m'dear, the words seemed to ring in her ear 
Until the next morning, she woke up in bed 
With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head 
And a voice in her ear 'ole that tickled and said 
Have some madeira, m'dear 

Writing and Performances: 

The song was written and famously performed by Flanders and Swann, a British comedy duo who collaborated in writing and performing comic songs. Between 1956 and 1967 Michael Flanders (1922-1975) and Donald Swann (1923-1994) performed their comic songs and monologues, with Flanders singing and Swann on the piano. Flanders had contacted polio in 1943 so performed from a wheelchair; Swann, at his piano, likewise remained seated during performances. Their show “At the Drop of a Hat” toured the UK, US and Canada. Their later show “At the Drop of Another Hat” also toured extensively, including the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong with an engagement on Broadway. 

See their performance of Have Some Madeira, M’Dear, by clicking on the following link: 

The above performance was recorded for US television so some of the more suggestive lyrics were tidied up, such as “finesse” instead of the word “prowess”. 

Tony Randall, who played Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, performed the number on the Carol Burnett Show in February 1976. See it by clicking on: 

The big questions: 

Is it funny to sing about a chaste minor being made intoxicated by an older man so as to have sex with her. The song raises all sorts of issues: date rape, abuse of a minor, lack of consent, supply of alcohol to a minor, the risk of pregnancy or disease . . . 

Is it made less innocuous by the fact that she wakes “with a smile on her lips”, or is it worse, suggesting that she really wanted it all along, the "All She Really Needed Was a Good ..." philosophy. 

If madeira was the roofies of the 60’s, were those issues considered to be humorous or of no consequence in 1967 and 1976? 

Not a song I would be singing to my daughter. 

  • Madeira is a fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands. Made in a variety of styles, from dry wines to sweet wines. 
  • There is a literary tradition of selling yourself for Madeira. Falstaff was accused by Poins of exchanging his soul for a leg of chicken and a goblet of Madeira in Shakespeare's Henry IV (Part 1, Act 1, Scene 2). 
  • George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence (1449 – 1478), the brother of kings Edward VI and Richard 111, and a character in Shakespeare’s Richard 111, was drowned in a barrel of Madeira. 
  • Madeira was an important wine in the history of the United States of America. No wine-quality grapes could be grown among the 13 colonies, so imports were needed, with a great focus on Madeira. 
  • One of the events contributing to the American Revolution was the British seizure of John Hancock’s sloop Liberty in 1768. Hancock's boat was seized after he had unloaded 3,150 gallons of Madeira and a dispute arose over import duties. The seizure of the Liberty caused riots to erupt in Boston. 
  • Madeira was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson and was used to toast the Declaration of Independence. 

1 comment:

  1. Must be something wrong with me, I thought the postcard looked rather sexy. The way they are looking at each other seems they have their own lusty secret.


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