The Saturday briefing
IS THERE anything you are desperately yearning to know? Are there any pressing factual disputes you would like us to help resolve? This is the page where we shall do our best to answer any questions you throw at us, whatever the subject.
CAN you tell me the origin of the phrase “kangaroo court”?
Barbara Parkins, Hatfield, Hertfordshire THE phrase originated not, as one might surmise, in Australia but in the United States in the mid-19th century.
Frontier towns at the time relied on itinerant judges who wandered from town to town making hasty judgments as their fees depended on how many trials they conducted and sometimes even on the size of the fines they imposed.
The name “kangaroo court” derives from the image of these judges hopping as fast as they could from court to court and it was soon extended to any hasty pseudo-judicial procedure often ending in harsh punishment.
I WOULD be very interested to know whether poet laureate Sir John Betjeman was the voice-over for the film about the Night Mail, featuring a poem of that name by WH Auden.
LC Hollier, Birmingham THE classic Night Mail film featuring WH Auden’s poem, which had been specially written for it, was made by the GPO (General Post Office) in 1936 in praise of the nightly mail-carrying train from London Euston to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
The music for the film was written by Benjamin Britten and the voice-over was not John Betjeman but was mainly the great documentary film-maker John Grierson, with some passages narrated by Stuart Legg.
CAN you tell me when the 11-plus examination was introduced and when it was abolished? I took the exam in the autumn of 1944 and heard that I had passed in May 1945 around VE Day.
Mrs D Howson, Waterhouses, Staffordshire YOU must have been one of the first to take the 11-plus. It was introduced in 1944 after being created in the Butler Education Act of that year to determine whether children aged 11 should go on to a grammar school, secondary modern or technical school.
There are still 164 grammar schools in England and another 69 in Northern Ireland and the 11-plus is still used as an entrance test for many of these. As a mandatory test used throughout the nation however it had been phased out by 1976.
IN the 1950s the author Dornford Yates had to change the chosen title of his novel Lady-in-Waiting to Wife Apparent as his original title had been used by another author.
I recently read in the Daily Express that Stuart Smith is publishing a book entitled The Devil’s Disciple but I know that was the title of a Dennis Wheatley book
years ago. Has the copyright law on book titles changed?
Margaret Brakell, Horley, Surrey IN general, book titles have never been subject to copyright law as they are too short to be considered intellectual property. The decision of Dornford Yates to change his title at the last moment came when he discovered that the other Lady-in-Waiting book was scheduled to come out at the same time as his own and he wanted to avoid confusion.
In some circumstances however a book title can be trademarked to stop others who might, deliberately or accidentally, cash in on the success of the first work.
Nobody now can write a book called The Da Vinci Code or anything with Harry Potter in its title without risking some very nasty lawyers’ letters. As for The Devil’s Disciple, that was the title of a play by George Bernard Shaw written in 1897, which was the year Dennis Wheatley was born.
Wheatley wrote The Devil Rides Out and used The Devil’s Disciple as the working title of the book that eventually appeared as They Used Dark Forces.
IT has been suggested to me that black and white are not colours because they cannot be made from primary colours. If they are not colours, what should they be classified as and why?
Will Heyes, Wigan, Lancashire THERE are many different answers to this question. If we are talking about the colours of light, every colour is a combination of the three primary colours red, green and blue. Shine by three spotlights of those colours on to a screen and the region in which they overlap will appear white. White light contains all wavelengths of light so you could say that white is the supreme, all-encompassing colour.
Black, on the other hand, is the absence of light so you could say black isn’t a colour at all. On the other hand, if we are talking about colour as pigment, then the primary colours are red, yellow and blue, which can be mixed together to create all the other colours except white. Mix them all together and you get a murky blackish appearance.
So by that criterion we might say black is a colour but white isn’t. The whole question however is heavily tinted by the influence of photography and film.
Historically we have black-and-white or colour pictures. By that standard both black and white aren’t colours. So you may feel free to take your pick over whether white, black, both or neither are colours.
AS I watched the Ryder Cup recently I wondered how the strange names for scoring came about: eagle, bogey, etc. I know the game has a long history and would be interested to know how it has evolved from its ancient beginnings in Scotland.
Lynne Rhodes, Hull BOTH bogey and birdie date back to the 1890s with their origins respectively in Scotland and the US. Bogey was a reference to the elusive and frightening bogey man who lurked in the shadows and frightened children. Oddly enough a bogey score originally described what is now known as a par score. As in the child-scaring mantra “I’m the bogey man, catch me if you can”, a bogey was a score people wanted to catch.
When the term par came in, the word bogey took on its more sinister side as something to be avoided.
Birdie came from the American use of the word bird for anything commendable. An American player named Ab Smith is said to have described a fine golf stroke as “a bird of a shot” in 1899 and this turned into birdie for a hole played under par.
The Atlantic City Country Club even has a plaque on its golf course to mark the first use of the term birdie, which it says was in 1903.
Once birdie was established, it was natural to call two under par by the name of a large bird, the eagle. Three under par was first known as a double-eagle until someone in the 1920s called it an albatross.
TOUGH JUSTICE: A kangaroo court featured in the Western Santa Fe Stampede starring John Wayne, centre
BORDER CROSSING: John Grierson’s voice was heard in the 1936 film