Culture / Economics

Ronnie Corbett and the Chicago School

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The sons of Adam Smith: Scottish economists Gordon Brown and Ronnie Corbett discuss monetary targets for the coming financial year.

The death of Ronnie Corbett has naturally led many people to reminisce about his Danny La Rue-launched comedy career. Less celebrated, though, is his role as one of the fathers of monetarism.

The evidence comes with his 1970 Philips single ‘It’s All Going Up-Up-Up’, on which the former Frost Report ensemble member (Golden Boy David was the record’s promoter) tackled head-on the issue of rampant price rises, in a year when annual inflation was at its highest for nearly two decades and hurtling towards double figures. At this point neither Sir Keith Joseph nor Margaret Thatcher had yet embraced the teachings of the Chicago School, but, linking up with songwriting team Silvio-Beck-Moeller (the supply-side Stock, Aitken and Waterman), the future star of Sorry was determined to challenge the Butskellite post-war economic consensus.

To a pared down 2/4 march time (not for Little Ron the extravagance of a 4/4 or 6/8 tempo), the pint-sized Friedman points out that things ‘are all going up-up-up’ in price. Showing his working, the Scots TV funnyman gives some examples:

Rates, rent, gas bills, papers, pencils, cigarettes and booze
Bus, coach and train fares (every day there’s something else in the news)

Moreover:

Fish, chips and butties, salt and vinegar, mustard, pepper and peas
Onions and wallies, bangers and mash and gravy (if you please)

Moving on from comestibles to commodities:

Nappies and knickers, maxis, minis, tights and brassieres too
Pots, pans and passports (it even costs you more to go to the loo)

This was no random list. In 1970 many of these were among the very goods used to calculate the retail price index, now replaced by modern products like, er, baseball caps and sexting.

At this point the pro-am golfing clown prince underlines his message by repeating the chorus, proving that whatever else was prohibitively priced at the time, it didn’t include timpani emphasis and key changes.

Monetarist mythology has it that the One Ronnie suggested an extra verse in which he would have sung, ‘You must cut money supply/Or you will never have price stab-il-i-ty,’ but was forced to retreat by the notoriously Keynesian Mike Sammes Singers, who provided the backing vocals (following their early work on the Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’). ‘Just the kind of collectivist militancy that got us into this mess in the first place,’ the bespectacled showbiz legend might have reflected – indeed, in 1972 Sammes was denied his chance of providing the UK’s Eurovision Song Contest entry by a power strike.

Anyway, just nine years after ‘It’s All Going Up-Up-Up’, Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister and Ronnie was able to concentrate for the rest of his career on his televised chair-based skits, knowing the economy was at last in suitable neo-classical hands.

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One thought on “Ronnie Corbett and the Chicago School

  1. He did also spend time as a tax exile in the seventies ! and according to todays Telegraph sold his house to avoid inheritance tax ….he was the full Friedman !

    Like

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