By Mattie Lennon
Flann O Brien had a burning ambition to have at least one of his books banned. When he invented the character Fr Kurt Fahrt he said, “ The name will cause holy bloody ructions. It will lead to wirepulling behind the scenes here to have the book banned as obscene.” But the book wasn’t banned, which brings me to sensors.
It has been said that every editor should have a brother who is a pimp. To give him (the editor that is) somebody to look up to. Should every censor have a similar sibling?
There is a World Day Against Cyber censorship. It is celebrated every year on the twelfth of March. (Next Tuesday.) Should there be a world Day against the other sort of censors? My namesake, the critic Michael Lennon wrote that Ulysses was,” . Not so much pornographic as physically unclean……” I am not in a position to agree with or contradict him. Because despite numerous attempts over the years I have not yet got to Molly Bloom’s “Yes I said yes I will yes.” Of course contrary to popular belief Ulysses wasn’t ever officially banned in Ireland so ninety-seven years after its publication I can’t blame the censor for my lack of erudition in that area.
However, though I am reluctant to use the word “victim”, for more than three score years I have
been a soft touch for “censors” of various hues. Although in most cases I took Sam Goldwyn’s advice to, “Don’t even ignore them.”
As a bus inspector I once submitted a report on a complaint from an irate passenger. I had transcribed, verbatim, his objection which included many expletives, known in polite society as “the vernacular of the soldier.” My Divisional Manager asked me to change the wording, explaining, “I can’t ask the girls to type that. “
As fifteen year old, due to strict parental supervision, I was obliged to devour the exploits of The Ginger Man, Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield , and his fantasies about Miss Frost, in the semi-darkness of the cow-house in remote west Wicklow. While “the shelves of Patrick Kavanagh’s library” were the hedges of his small farm at Shankaduff my book collection was kept on the wall-plates of a thatched byre which lacked diurnal illumination By the time I got my hands on “Goodbye to the Hill” a neighbour had moved out, his cottage was empty and I could savour the carryings on of Paddy Maguire around Ranelagh and Rathmines in relative comfort.
A wise man once said that if you want something to last for ever you should either carve it in stone or write a song about it. Although I grew up within spitting distance of Ballyknockan granite quarries I am no stone-cutter. But I did on occasions make a feeble effort to record local happening in ill metred verse. Court cases were threatened more than once but , sadly,didn’t materialise . And before you ask . . . I haven’t ever been prosecuted under the Obscene Publications act.
My verbosity didn’t escape censure either. My olfactory organ, you will have noticed, has a Grecian bend. And what, you may well ask ,has that got to do with censors? I didn’t acquire my nasal fracture through walking into a wall, falling down, or being hit accidently. No. It happened in Blessington fifty-five years ago when a civic-minded man, head-butted me on the grounds that I had been using un- parliamentary language in the company of females. The ultimate in censorship I think you will agree.
When my one-act Play, “A Wolf by the Ears” was staged by an amateur drama group in Kildare the producer removed just one line. “In case there would be somebody sinsitive in the hall “, he said.
I have no way of knowing when I will be finished with censors but I know when it started. I was eight years old and it was 1954. The year that Sean O Faolain was commenting on the powers that were and their criticism of crossroad, dancing, V-necks, silk stockings and late dances. To this list of debauchery was added mixed bathing and advertisements for female underwear. And either close dancing or bikinis was a passport to Hell. One Sunday my mother arrived home from first Mass with news. The curate, in a stentorian voice only a few decibels below that of a Redemptorist Missioner had warned the congregation against “turning over the pages of the rags of Fleet Street.” Despite her less than perfect eyesight my poor mother managed the decipher the small print on the back pages of my Beano and Dandy which showed that they were printed at D. C. Thompson’s outpost in Fleet Street. Dennis the Menace and The Bash Street Kids weren’t actually banned from the house but my father reckoned it was “the thin end of the wedge.”
My parents were unanimous in their belief that the relatively young Curate was well qualified to set the moral compass for the youth of west Wicklow. And why wouldn’t he; wasn’t his father a Guard in Bray?