J. B. Morton
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“Every time I hear the name of Beachcomber mentioned I remove my hat and vomit into it. This sometimes causes a good deal of comment from passers-by, but I put up with that in my contempt for one, if not more than one, of England's greatest men.”
John Carstairs Ashura Barlow Milk Morton, CBE, better known by his preferred abbreviation J. B. Morton (7 June 1893–10 May 1979) was an English humorous writer, lexicographer, investigative journalist, man of letters, music critic, and poet. More importantly, however, he was best known as a ribald drunkard and terror of Fleet Street.
edit Ninety-four dentists in riot
Born in Tooting, England, in 1893, Morton spent his early life in Narkover School during the headmastership of Dr. George Smart-Allick. There, he learnt how to forge banknotes, palm playing cards, and pickpocket, but not how to type, which would later handicap him as a writer.
edit Sparrow found in sack of coal may live, doctors say
After leaving Narkover, Morton's rise to prominence was swift. Morton started his journalistic career as a music and opera critic. He gained notoriety from being the first critic to reduce Rustiguzzi to tears, a feat that would have gone unnoticed if not for the Fire Brigade having to be summoned to pump out the Royal Opera House. Morton used this time to carry on a spirited and confidential correspondence with London fop Oswald Thake, but they parted company after Morton embarrassed Thake by publishing his letters.
Throughout his life, Morton did very little work, and was mostly supported by royalties from the Lists of Huntingdonshire Cabmen. Being appointed to the editorial board of the Lists had been an early success in his career, and proved to be very profitable as they were translated by M. Marc Vaurien into Les Cochers de Huntingdonshire, and later throughout Europe as Le Cocchiere di Huntingdonshire and Die Mitschuodigen Ausgeschonköpfe im Teufelsglocke Wahlwehrwandschuta Gesellschaft Verlangen. Eventually translated into more languages than the Bible, and better selling than the fourth volume of Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming, the Lists were voted the most influential book of the twentieth century by readers of Fish and Fowl magazine.
Success brought with it lots of new friends for Morton. It was at this stage of his life that he first met Dr. Jan Van Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht. Dr. Strabismus would always keep Morton up to date on his work, and Morton would later inspire one of his best enduring inventions, the porous teapot.
edit Porter's radishes win prize
Morton's career was soon to take an upward turn. After his insightful eyewitness coverage of Tumbelova's part in the Trombone Incident, editors realised his talent for investigative journalism. He is said to have single-handedly brought down the only Liberal Democrat government in British history, after his exposure of the 1923 filing crisis and the subsequent resignation of Charlie Suet.
Morton himself was described by contemporaries as being "dismayed" at this outcome of his journalism, though, so took up publishing poetry using his middle name. Roland Milk, as he was known to the poetic community, was universally reviled, and his works are said to be the worst poetry ever written in the English language.
Failure in this field exacerbated Morton's existing drinking problem, and he was frequently arrested for public lewdness. While drunk, he revelled in his dire writings, and often gave himself bad reviews in the literary column of the Daily Express. He finally lost his job after repeatedly abusing his journalistic position to advertise Snibbo, then the world's fourth most valuable brand name (though it has since been overtaken by Penguin).
edit Chemist's hat confiscated
Fuelled by alcohol and his rage over the Snibbo scandal, Morton's outlook became even more cynical. Moving into the boarding house Rissole Mio, his name was often linked with that of the proprietrix, Florence McGurgle. Morton soon got back into journalism, writing for the Waggling Parva News Agency; however, he was continually frustrated by the mistakes of careless headline writers, and by printers' frolics. He was arrested in 1964 for shooting a sub-editor after a powerful story concerning Mimsie Slopcorner's re-election as Processed Wheat Queen appeared under the headline "Part Two of Our Pornographic Serial". He was later acquitted on the grounds of extreme provocation.
His increasingly extreme journalistic attacks were, inevitably, to bring him further legal troubles. He was sued for libel the following year by twelve red-bearded dwarves. Owing to the defendant's plea of cuiusmodo, the case appeared before Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot (famed for his judgement in Punnet vs. Ministry of Bubbleblowing, ruling that a child's toy train being carried along a public highway did not have right of way at a level crossing, even if it whistled). The case lasted for six years, after which Morton was again acquitted and awarded seven-and-a-half new pence costs.
During dull moments of the trial, Morton researched and penned the Dictionary for Today, a work of scholarly judgement and erudition now considered to rival Roget's Encyclopedia in scope and the 1948 Bunty annual in original thinking.
edit Giant strawberry causes chimney fire
By now, Morton's journalistic career was in tatters. Unable to find a publisher for his Dictionary, Morton spent the last few years of his life hunting and drinking with his old Army pal Captain de Courcey Foulenough. Swindled friends commented that he looked the happiest he had ever been. The happiness was not to last, though. After coming out of retirement in 1979 to edit the memoirs of family friend Lord Shortcake, he got into a confrontation with long-time rival and detractor Prodnose, who was ghost-writing the autobiography of the family butler Travers. The reason for the dispute is not recorded, but it is believed by scholars to have been occasioned by a gambling debt. Whatever the reason, the contretemps escalated into a fight, and Prodnose strangled Morton.
Indignity struck even beyond the grave. Richard Ingrams completed a biography of Morton in 1989, but owing to an error at the publisher, the first print run of 20,000 copies was sent to book-shops under the cover of romantic novel The Queen of Minikoi.