Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Oh-Be-Joyfuls Mystery

The other evening a friend arrived, sans husband, at our singing practise night and I asked where he was. She began,
 "Oh he's got a touch of..." and paused.
 Unbidden a phrase came into my head to complete her sentence:
 "... the oh-be-joyfuls?".
She laughed and said "The what?". I explained that it was a phrase remembered from childhood; used to cover an event when one felt out of sorts, internally. As I pondered, the voice uttering the phrase in my memory was that of my Mother.
My Mother was born in 1927 and brought up in Deptford, South London. Her Father was a lighterman and auxiliary fireman who was killed during the Blitz in Surrey Docks. She and her family lived in her maternal grandfather's house and he was a blue-collar office worker in the docks. Her Mother, Kate, seems to have considered herself a "cut above" refusing to allow the family to go on the traditional working-class Londoner's summer jolly - hop-picking in Kent - as she considered it too 'common'.

I searched the net for "a touch of the oh be joyfuls" and found plenty of references to religion and alternative therapies. But perhaps the most curious link was a recording from Bruce Forsyth (now Sir Bruce) dating from 1962.

In 1962 I was seven. So the date fits, but quite how Mum could have translated the title of a Bruce Forsyth  B-side into a term for an upset stomach?  Listening to it does indeed induce mild nausea, and my Mother has been known to adopt and adapt phrases for her own purposes.  But, still, I wasn't completely convinced, especially since the song itself borrows other slang phrases then in reasonably common parlance - 'The screaming abdabs' for example. 
So to the horse's mouth I went. Today I asked Mum where the phrase came from. She replied immediately "My Mother used to say it". So I asked her where she thought Grandma Kate got the phrase, to which she replied, "From her mother... she got all her sayings from her mother." Since Grandma Kate was born in 1900 we're heading back into the Victorian era here...
Grandma Kate was indeed a source of sayings, I blogged about one some time ago. Obviously my father also shared my curiosity about the derivations of her sayings, since I can still remember his delight in finding the word cagmag in the dictionary. My mother was often sent on an errand to the butcher with the words "and tell him we don't want any of his old cagmag neither" ringing in her ears.

So is "A Touch of the Oh be Joyfuls" an ironically mock-religious London phrase from the Victorian era? Or is it a term my Mother unconsciously commandeered from the BBC Light Programme for reason or reasons unknown?
If you could shed a little light on the matter, please do.