It’s been a while since Sir John Major MP offered up one of his arcane utterances for public enjoyment, so it was a nice surprise to find him back on form in today’s Guardian, essaying an allusion for Tony Blair’s long handover to Gordon Brown that was as whimsical as it was incomprehensible. Namely, it’s proving to be “the longest farewell since Dame Nellie Melba quit the stage”.
Come again? When was the last time you heard anybody, let alone a public figure, and let alone an ex-Prime Minister, refer to Nellie Melba?
One of the few things it is genuinely possible to miss from the Major years is the regular materialisation of such verbal frippery in, usually, the most incongruous of places. Here are a few of Major’s greatest hits, all of which are impossible to reproduce without an exclamation mark.
“New age travellers? Not in this age! Not in any age!”
“When I was born my mother was was 47; my father was…surprised!”
“When your back is against the wall, it is time to turn round and start fighting!”
“People with vision usually do more harm than good!”
“It is time to put up or shut up!”
“A soundbite never buttered a parsnip!”