This week’s Friday funny, brought to you by author and journalist Eugene Byrne, tells the story of Graham Greene, a 20th-century novelist. As an author, Greene was fond of tackling religious, moral and political issues, but in his private life, it seems Greene had a penchant for practical jokes…
One evening, a Mr Graham Greene, who lived in Golders Green, London, received an unexpected phone call.
“Are you Graham Greene?”
“Yes,” replied Mr Greene.
“Are you the man who writes those filthy novels?”
“No, I am a retired solicitor.”
“I’m not surprised you’re ashamed to admit you’re the author of this muck.”
“No, I assure you … “
“If I’d written them at least I’d have the guts to admit it.”
Mr Greene would receive several more phone calls from various people complaining about the literary works of his famous namesake. Eventually he got tired of it and decided to go ex-directory.
Of course every one of the calls came from the novelist Graham Greene.
If you’re familiar with any of the works of Graham Greene (1904-91), or even just those of his stories which have been filmed, such as Brighton Rock, The Third Man, The End of the Affair, Our Man in Havana or The Quiet American, you’ll know him for someone who tackled profound moral, political and religious issues.
His books occasionally betray a dry, fatalistic humour, but you wouldn’t have him down as a funny guy. He suffered from bouts of crushing depression throughout his life (one reason why he travelled so much) and in recent years it’s been claimed that bipolar disorder is actually the key to much of his work. So it’s actually quite curious to discover that Greene was notorious among his friends as a practical joker.
He was fond of phone pranks; one game he played with friends was to pick numbers at random from the phone book, call them and see how long they could keep the stranger on the other end of the line talking. Greene, apparently, always won.
He also collected business cards, which he used for mischievous purposes, such as sending one, via a waiter, to a friend in a restaurant who had not spotted him, with an obscene invitation written on the back.
Then there was the time he wrote to the New Statesman to express his pleasure that Mr John Smith had come second in the magazine’s contest for the best parody of Graham Green’s writing, adding he was disappointed that Joe Doakes and William Jones had not won any prizes. Greene had sent in all three himself.
You can read more of Eugene’s historical jokes at www.historyextra.com