The ambassador’s wish-list

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In this week’s blog, journalist and author Eugene Byrne shares a historical joke popular during the 1970s about the Christmas wish-lists of the British, Chinese and French ambassadors, and investigates the story behind the humour

The joke – heard on a TV show during the 1970s

One year just before Christmas, a disc jockey on a local radio station in Washington DC decided that it would be a nice idea to phone up the ambassadors from various countries in the US capital and ask them what they were asking for for Christmas.

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When he took the call, the British ambassador, a polished and professional diplomat, saw the question as one fraught with pitfalls – he could appear ostentatious, or even sound like he was open to bribes – so he decided to play it as safe as possible. “Oh I really don’t want much at all,” he said. “I’ll be very happy with some aftershave and a new pair of slippers.”

Christmas morning came around, and the DJ was on the air doing his show: “We called the French ambassador, and he said his Christmas wish is for peace and goodwill to all men. The Chinese ambassador, he wants an end to hunger and disease throughout the world. The British ambassador wants aftershave and slippers.”
 

The story behind the joke

Anyone out there know if this is actually a true story? Comedian Kenny Everett told it on an episode of his TV show during the late 1970s, claiming it was fact, but we can’t find an authoritative source.

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Either way, it’s a nice illustration of the careful, tweedy buffoonery of British officialdom coming to terms with the end of Empire. One thing, though; while it looks as though the joke is on the British ambassador, at least his Christmas wish was actually realisable, compared to the other Christmas wishes that were just by-the-numbers public relations bullstuff?