Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
It feels like a long time ago that the Prime Minister was telling the public that they could ‘bung a bob for a Big Ben bong’ to mark the UK leaving the EU on the 31st of January.
Whilst the crowdfunding effort ultimately proved futile, this was one of many examples of our Prime Minister charming – or frustrating – the public with words only he could formulate.
These flashes of humour were few and far between as the Covid-19 pandemic broke loose. Now that the disease is wreaking havoc in Britain they have practically vanished.
In the early episodes of the daily No. 10 briefing, Boris Johnson’s remark that we needed to “squash the sombrero” (as opposed to flatten the curve) of the pandemic was one of the last instances of Prime Ministerial wit.
The final one was his joking that the UK’s push to secure enough ventilators to see us through the crisis could be called “Operation Last Gasp”. The uproar that followed this was a sign that such comments were ill-judged and that Covid-19 is rightly not a laughing matter.
To some people, language such as this is a reminder of a buoyant, jovial Prime Minister fresh from winning an 80-seat majority. Yet Johnson, having himself almost breathed his last gasp whilst in intensive care, is a long way away from rediscovering the classical references and alliterative gobbets of the pre-coronavirus world.
This is not to say that a deadly pandemic is the time for our Prime Minister to be making light of things; I am merely pointing out that the day Johnson chooses to again begin talking humorously to MPs and the public will mark the point that we have emerged from this crisis.
The signs were there in Johnson’s address on his emergence from hospital. Paying thanks to those that saved his life, he mentioned the fact that “several of them for some reason [were] called Nick”, as the nation duly giggled.
Reading Johnson’s 2004 novel Seventy Two Virgins – which gets its name from that which is promised to Islamic martyrs – provides us with the rawest instances of his humour. Outrageous references to ‘a mega-titted six-footer’ and to an MP terrified of a story set to air in tomorrow’s tabloids, all within the context of a Jihadist terror plot, makes for some light-hearted lockdown reading.
You may love or loathe Johnson’s wit. He is either a pretentious man not taking governing the country seriously enough or a clever bloke looking to inject some life into being a public servant. Take your pick. It certainly makes a change from Theresa May.
One thing is for sure: the day that Bojo returns to his usual jovial ways – and rediscovers his mojo – will be the day Britain has emerged from the coronavirus crisis.