This I Believe

Potter, Gillie


  • Gillie Potter states his belief in the power of wit and "foolishness" to communicate truth, and describes his belief that his task is to bring merriness back to a modern zeitgeist that is currently devoid of humor.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Gillie Potter is a name you may not have heard before, but for more than a generation, British radio and music hall audiences have delighted in hearing a pedantic voice say, "Good evening, England. This is Gillie Potter, speaking to you in English." Then, with a laugh-provoking expression of distant superiority, he goes on to discuss the affairs of the day. There is another side to comedian Gillie Potter. He is a recognized authority on, among other things, ecclesiastical architecture and church law. Like the accent of his voice, the accent of his thinking is different, as he expresses his personal creed.
Your cracker box philosophers, such humorists as Jack Downing and those that followed him and led up to Artemus Ward, had each his own topographical setting. I am of the same school. Downing’s Downingsville and Ward’s Baldinsville were, both of them, imaginary small townships, from the hypothetical happenings within which their creators were able to instance salutary lessons for the whole nation. In like fashion, I have resurrected an old English civic pseudonym I knew—since the writings of Lamb and Scott—for the ultra bucolic, in the legendary place named Hogsnorton, whose fictitious inhabitants and their alleged activities are adapted by me to the service of satirizing the sayings and doings of my sometimes foolish fellow countrymen elsewhere.
I believe then, personally as well as professionally, in the importance of the part to be played by honest laughter in making life easier and, so, happier. “My son,” says the proverb, “get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding.” That is, a sense of proportion which is, again, merely such a sense of humor as will enable us to see ourselves as others see us, a faculty that we are fast losing—how fast is evidenced clearly by the fact that while we were never more ready to laugh at others, we are rapidly losing the saving grace of laughing at ourselves. The heterodox trend in modern art, music, and drama is, like the politico-economic ideology it reflects, entirely devoid of humor. The Pagan philosophy of an earlier heresy was based upon the statement, “Tomorrow we die.” But, it advocated on the way the policy of eat, drink, and be merry.
Like all persons of my years and race, I was nurtured in the Christian faith, and I know, therefore, that the philosophy in question is prefaced by a false premise. But my very soul warms to its advice as to enjoying life to the full, and I have in my humble way assisted, I hope, to restore to my motherland her erstwhile happy title of “Merry England.” The savior of the souls of men has fulfilled his mission, but the task of the savior of their sanity, the satirist, is a never-ending one. For, unhampered by creed or policy or program, he can dispel by a shaft of wit the clouds that obscure the truth; for many a true word is spoken in jest.
Indeed, as a student of history, I am convinced that your classic humorist, Artemus Ward, did as much by his satire to save the soul of his country as did Abraham Lincoln by his statesmanship to preserve her frontiers. “I speak,” said St. Paul, “as a fool.” “But,” he elsewhere affirms, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” I believe then that were man to listen more attentively to God’s fools, he would himself be less foolish. It would be impossible for him to become more so. “To everything there is a season, a time to weep and a time to laugh.”
That was Gillie Potter, who many years ago started out to study law at Oxford, but turned to the stage and became one of England's leading comedians.