01 February 2014

How to avoid National Service

Playwright Alan Ayckbourn, then aged 20, was up for his National Service health examination, and was distinctly nervous at the prospect of involuntary military servitude.

He joined a queue at random and met a well-spoken young doctor with the sort of assistant then labelled an 'oik' by the officer classes.

Doctor: Strip orf. Stand on the glass mat. Got anything to report?
Alan: Very peculiar knee, sir.
Doctor: Oh yes? (Pause) Oh. I see you write.
Alan: Well, yes, I do a bit of writing. I've written a couple of plays.
Doctor: I'm writing. I'm writing my memoirs.
Alan: Oh right. (Thinks: He's writing his memoirs at 23?)
Doctor: Have you got a good agent? Anyone you think I could send it to?
Alan: Well, you could send it to my agent. (Thinks: See where sending it to Peggy Ramsay will get you)
Doctor: Thanks very much. D'you really want to do this?
Alan: No.
Doctor: Tell me about the knee again.
Alan: Well, it's -
Doctor: Well, I haven't examined it, but I can tell you from here I don't like the look of it.
Alan: Really?
Doctor: No, no, not at all. Could you walk to that wall, unaided?
Alan: I'll have a go for you sir, but -
Doctor: I don't think you could.
Alan: I think I might sort of fall down round about that chair.
Doctor: I've got some bad news for you. I'm afraid we can't take you. Because what'll happen is, you'll be marching around on the first day, and that knee's going to give way and we're going to be paying you a pension for the rest of your life. I can't allow the RAF into that sort of financial obligation.
Alan: Oh, damn.
Doctor: I'm sorry. Absolutely not.
Oik: Nobody ever did anything like that for me.
Doctor: Because you're an oik, Wilkins, and what possible use are you out in the real world? You're better off in here. Well, thank you, I'll expect my cheque in the morning.
Alan: Thank you very much, sir.
(Exit, limping heavily)

- Paul Allen, Alan Ayckbourn, 2001, quoted in John Gross (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, Oxford, 2006, p.344-5.

See also:
Comedy: Knuts & spats, 17 August 2013
Comedy: A legal genius at work, 11 March 2013
ComedyThe dangers of a pedagogic approach, 29 January 2013
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