Father Teapot and ‘Somebody’s mackintosh’

Fred Studenberg, who has taken on the huge task of collecting all of Warwick Deeping’s short stories, has asked if my readers would help him in a bit of detective work.

He has found the manuscript of ‘Father Teapot’, a hitherto unpublished story, in the Howard Gottleib Archival Research Center at Boston University.  Deeping’s handwriting is not easy to read, and he asks about this passage:

father teapot

(Click the picture for an enlarged view.)

It seems to read:

Now, there was a rude joke current in the army. It declared that the two great failures of the war were the Church of England, and Somebody’s mackintosh.

As the story progresses, Deeping explains why C of E chaplains had a low reputation:

Nor, I confess, did most of them impress us. They seemed to lack courage and a sense of duty. They were not trench-minded. Some of them remained very much in the back area.
I am afraid we often thought of them as rather useless parasites.

But is that last word ‘mackintosh’, and if so, what is ‘Somebody’s mackintosh’? Was there a wartime waterproof that was famously less waterproof than it was supposed to be? Any ideas?

The story ‘Father Teapot’ goes on to tell of a C of E chaplain who was an exception to the uninspiring norm. It has a central incident in common with Deeping’s ‘The Padre and the Tea-pot’ published in The Story-Teller Magazine in 1923. Maybe it’s an early draft?

12 Comments

  1. janevsw
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    It certainly looks like “Somebody’s mackintosh” to me.

    Might it be worth looking in the Wipers Times to see if any brand of mackintosh is persistently targeted?

  2. Roger
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps there was a wartime waterproof that was famously less waterproof than it was supposed to be, but Deeping couldn’t immediately remember the name and wrote “somebody’s” until he’d checked.

    • Posted December 3, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think he was forgetting. I reckon that he and everyone else knew which firm he was talking about, and the joke was in pretending to be vague.
      But which firm? Aquascutum and Burberry are the only ones i can think of, and all references I’ve seen to them have been very positive.

  3. janevsw
    Posted December 3, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    There was another firm called Ross & Co., and also Debenham & Freebody, to judge by the Times adverts (via Times Digital Archives).

    Mackintosh hunting in the TDA also led me to a brand of toffee and the Mackintosh of Mackintosh (chief of Clan Chattan), but they don’t seem very likely targets…

  4. Posted December 4, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    The other possibility is that the Somebody was an eminent somebody who made a fashion faux pas by wearing an inappropriate waterproof. This seems less likely, though.

  5. Jonathan Lighter
    Posted December 4, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t the phrase “rude joke” suggest something risque’?

    I am told that “mack” (for “mackintosh”) is a British or Aussie slang term for a condom, but I don’t know if it goes back to 1918.

    At about that time, however, an equivalent American term for the same item was “raincoat” – perhaps a coincidence, of course.

    Perhaps the “rude” joke involved a very eminent “Somebody’s” alleged fathering of an illegitimate child during the war.

    I don’t know of any such rumor, though. Merely adding my two cents.

    • Fred Studenberg
      Posted December 5, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      I like this explanation! The Somebody may have been just generic for anyone in the army.

  6. Jonathan Lighter
    Posted December 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Or a military/political somebody’s father!

    I’m guessing wildly, of course.

    Two weaknesses in the theory:

    1. That “Mackintosh” was used this way in 1914-18 is conjecture based on later evidence.

    2. Even if it was, Deeping might not have attempted even a veiled reference to a condom in a popular magazine in 1922-23 – though he might have if the word (“Mackintosh”) was sufficiently ambiguous and if he thought the usage to be unknown to civilians.

    Of course, he never published the story. Had he done so, he might have left out the “rude” pun.

    As plausible as it may sound, my elucidation of Deeping’s “rude joke” is nevertheless probably wrong.

    Certainly William of Ockham would say so.

    • Posted December 6, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      Jonathan wrote: ‘That “Mackintosh” was used this way in 1914-18 is conjecture based on later evidence.’

      Joyce uses ‘macintosh’ for condom in Ulysses (1922, but set in 1904) so it can be considered current usage.

      But I can’t believe that this was Deeping’s meaning. Jokes about prophylactics were not welcome in the kind of magazines that Deeping contributed to.

      On the other hand, the jibe about the Church of England would not, I think, have made it into the average fiction magazine, since editors preferred to steer clear of religious controversy of any kind.

      So was this story intended for a different kind of market? Or was it just a first draft, later smoothed out into ‘The Padre and the Tea-pot’ of 1923.

      Today I came across a paragraph that describes succinctly why the C of E was considered a failure. It’s from Guy Chapman’s autobiography:

      ‘These bluff Anglicans had nothing to offer but the consolation the next man could give you, and a less fortifying one. The Church of Rome sent a man into action mentally and spiritually cleaned. The Church of England could only offer you a cigarette. the Church of Rome, experienced in propaganda, sent its priests into line. The Church of England forbade theirs forward of Brigade Headquarters, and though many, realising the fatal blunder of such an order, came just the same, the publication of that injunction had its effect.’

      • Jonathan Lighter
        Posted December 7, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        The neutral or even positive use of “propaganda” (associated at its origin with the Catholic church) is striking today, though obviously it wasn’t to Chapman.

        No pre-war encyclopedia, including the Britannica, included an article on “propaganda.”

        As for the joke, could a certain manufacturer have advertised in a way to suggest that his mackintoshes protected one from anything that fell from the sky?

        Another wild guess.

        Could the particular “failure” of the C of E that Chapman mentions have been so widely and vividly perceived as to form the lead-in to a “rude joke current in the army”? I tend to doubt it. Are there more likely possibilities?

  7. Bill
    Posted December 7, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I always thought Catholic priests went into the front line because one of their primary religious duties was to adminster the “last rites” to dying men, and the front line was where the dying were to be found. Hardly propaganda.

  8. Posted March 12, 2015 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Deeping’s ‘Old Wine and New’ (1932) is set just after the War. The hero visits the editor of a newspaper called ‘Sabbath’ who senses that his journal is no longer what the modern word wants:

    ‘All the old values going, the old decencies. this is a damned new, raw world, my lad, raw as a fresh rump-steak. Why, haven’t you heard the gibe?’
    ‘What gibe?’
    ‘The war’s two great failures, religion and somebody’s mackintosh.’

    So it’s definitely ‘mackintosh’ in the earlier manuscript. But we still don’t know who ‘somebody’ was.


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