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The theme was Fund Raising. Immediately I knew what I wanted to write about. Everything was there in my head and the whole thing pretty much wrote itself. We were given the homework on our Friday morning session and I'd finished it, polished it and sent it off by the following Monday afternoon. There's an Afterword at the end to help put the events of the story in context.

The Joke

Every year students at the university engage in a mammoth fund raising effort for charity. It’s known as rag week and in this golden year of 1969, Peter and David are in charge of producing the rag week magazine. The magazine is a guaranteed best seller; page after page of the dirtiest jokes in the known universe. It always sells like hot punch lines, and Peter and David are determined to make this year’s issue the filthiest and funniest ever. A few weeks ago they put an advert in the student newspaper asking for submissions and now they are sniggering and snorting their way through the piles of paper that have flooded into their tiny office in response to the advert.

There is a flickering television in the corner of the room. Dim black and white images show hordes of angry sign-waving students chanting slogans in front of the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Faintly through the tinny speakers, Peter and David can hear:

Hey, hey LBJ
How many kids did you kill today?

"We should be down there," says Peter, nodding towards the television. "Stopping the war is a lot more important than putting a dirty magazine together."

David shakes his head. "No," he says. "Raising money for charity has a lot more of a long term effect than chanting slogans does. We’ll end up with a large cheque that we can use for something practical. They’ll just end up with sore heads from the police batons."

"I’m surprised to hear you say that," says Peter. "You took part in the sit-in last month. You were quite enthusiastic about it as I recall."

"That’s right," says David. "The organisers kept the numbers up by showing non-stop pornographic movies. It was standing room only in there by midnight, even though it was supposed to be a sit in! Great fun and a great example of idealism tempered with realpolitik."

Peter smiles and returns to his piles of paper. Soon he is chortling again. "Here’s a good one," he says.

The mighty spaceship ploughed through the void between the stars. The crew were near to mutiny and the captain was deep in angry conversation with the artificial intelligence in charge of supplies.

"What happened?" he demanded. "Come on Marie, you stupid machine. How could you allow such a situation to arise? How did you expect us to travel five hundred light years with no toilet paper?"

"What is it to me?" said Marie haughtily. "I have no need for toilet paper."

The captain buried his head in his hands. "What am I going do?"

"Let them use cake," said Marie.

"That’s not very dirty," says David uncertainly..

"No," replies Peter, "but at least it’s funny. And toilet humour is mildly dirty, so I think it’s allowed. You know, the real problem with most dirty jokes is that generally they aren’t very funny. People only laugh at them because the smuttiness makes them feel a little uncomfortable. The laughter is a protection mechanism. We studied the phenomenon in first year psychology."

David nods in agreement. "Well," he says, "fair is fair. If you can have a funny one then so can I. How about this one?" He picks up a piece of paper and reads:

The explorers of the star system had named the twelve planets after the months of the terrestrial year. Only March, the third planet from the sun, was habitable.

John picked up his towel and set off for a day at the beach. The planet's five moons were clearly visible even in the daytime, and the sun was hot. He soon fell asleep.

He awoke with the sea lapping around him. He was isolated from the mainland and the tide was rising. He was drowning, choking as the sea invaded his lungs. His last thought was "Beware the tides of March."

Peter laughs with delight. "That’s a good one," he says. "I like intellectual puns. There’s no obscenity there, but if we use it, at least we’ll have two proper jokes buried among all the smut."

"Are we still aiming to be the filthiest edition ever?" asks David.

"Oh yes," says Peter. "Two relatively clean jokes won’t make much of a dent in that ambition."

* * * *

The cover of the magazine shows the figures 6 and 9 snuggling close together with a lascivious, smiling face pictured in the loop of each numeral. Most people stare at it for several seconds before the dirty meaning hits them, and then either they snigger and hand over their money or they frown and stalk away in disgust. Sniggerers outnumber frowners by about ten to one and so the money rolls in. Peter and David cover their printing costs within an hour of the magazine going on sale and from there on in, everything is pure profit.

Peter, who is the largest prop forward the university rugby team has ever fielded, has a very aggressive sales technique. He stalks threateningly through the town and whenever he sees a likely looking prospect he demands, "Have you got any money?"

If the prospect admits to having money, Peter growls, "Give it to me!" and hands over a magazine in exchange.

If the prospect denies having money, Peter says, "Go and get some, then come back here and I will let you have a copy of this lovely magazine."

None of these people know that Peter is really the gentlest of men, and therefore his pockets are soon bulging with money. This has the effect of making him look even larger, and so his sales increase exponentially.

David prefers going door to door. Most people are friendly and chatty. He drinks many a sociable cup of tea.  But one rather angry man says, "I’m not bloody giving you bloody lot any bloody money until you bloody stop bloody demonstrating!" Then he slams the door in David’s face. David pushes a magazine into his letterbox anyway because he’s feeling bloody charitable, and isn’t that bloody well what it’s all about anyway? Bloody hell!

* * * *

Peter counts the number of zeros before the decimal point on the banker’s cheque he is holding. There’s an impressively large number of them. "I think we’ve beaten the record for magazine sales," he says proudly. "Some charity is going to be very pleased with us."

David nods. "It’s a pity that the Mayor refused to accept the money," he says. "It always looks more official if the money comes via the Mayor. What was it he said about us? Oh yes... I cannot in all conscience accept money to pass on to charity when that money has been generated by the unbelievably disgusting material that was published in this year’s rag week magazine. Never before have I seen such filth. And much though I deplore the political activities of student demonstrators, I cannot help feeling that the editors of this so-called magazine would have done much better if they’d taken part in the protests outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square rather than wasting their time producing this muck!"

Peter smiles. "My spies on the city council tell me that he was reading the magazine and chortling away to himself quite happily until he got to the John Lennon joke. Then he got all offended and announced that he wanted nothing to do with it. Probably he’s a Beatles fan."

David nods in agreement. "It was a pretty disgusting joke though," he says. "The Mayor was right about that. Even I felt a little bit offended by it. Goodness knows what John Lennon will do to us if he ever finds out about it."

"Hopefully he never will," says Peter. "But even if he does, we didn’t use his full name, so if he sets his lawyers on to us we can always pretend we meant someone else."

"Good plan," agrees David. "Let’s go down the pub and celebrate the size of the cheque."


This is all true – for small values of the truth. The events were organised at Nottingham University in 1969, in exactly the same week that massive demonstrations against the Vietnam war were taking place outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, The rag week organisers really did set out to produce the most disgusting Rag Week magazine ever. 69 was far too good an opportunity to miss. The T-shirts were astonishing!

That year there really was a sit in at the university that showed pornographic movies to attract the punters. The Mayor really did refuse to accept any money from the sale of such an obscene publication, and it really was the John Lennon joke that offended him so much.

I’ve chosen to tell the story as fiction rather than fact because I suspect that a straightforward journalistic presentation of the details would prove to be rather dull. So I’ve made up the dialogue and I’ve tried to be entertaining. I hope I’ve succeeded.

The two jokes I’ve told were not in the magazine – I no longer remember any of the jokes from the magazine, apart from the John Lennon joke, of course. These two jokes are actually drabbles (short stories of exactly 100 words) that I wrote about twenty five years ago. It’s nice to re-use old material sometimes.

The door to door selling of the magazine and the bloody, bloody, bloody speech that the householder indulged himself in happened to me, and I’ve reported the dialogue verbatim. The aggressive selling technique that Peter devised was used (very effectively) by a friend of mine.

Peter and David are fictional – I have no idea who the actual editors were or what their motives were, but it all sounds nice and accurate...

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