This means that Annual Dinners have been prolonged into the small hours of the morning as one comic after another parades to the microphone and tells a joke. Eventually the Committee decided that enough was enough - but what could they do? As the right to tell a joke after the Annual Dinner is enshrined in the Articles of Incorporation, getting it removed would be a constitutional matter involving endless amounts of committees, extraordinary general meetings and no end of tedious bureaucracy. Besides, any move to reduce or remove the after-dinner joke spot would be very unpopular with rank-and-file comics. The Committee was stuck.
That's when the Secretary had a brilliant idea. All comedians know all the jokes already - all the Secretary needed to do was write all the jokes down. His labours took more than a year, and the result came to be called the Official Book of Jokes. The key feature of the OBJ was that each joke had a unique number. For example, the joke
1: My dog's got no nose.
2: How does he smell?
… would be number 115, whereas the gag
I'm not saying my mother-in-law's fat, but when she steps on the scales it says 'no coach parties please'
… would be number 346, and so on and so forth in like fashion. Having compiled all the jokes, the Secretary sent a copy to each and every member of the Comedians' Convention. At the next AGM and Dinner, which happened to be in a plush banqueting suite in Harrogate, the post-prandial proceedings were shortened considerably, as each comic wouldn't tell the actual joke, but simply refer to it by its number. First up was a seasoned comic with his own series on BBC4. He stepped up to the stage with an insouciant swagger and said
"Ladies and Gentlemen - number 466!"
Titters from the audience. Up next was a middle-aged Geordie woman with an acerbic line in put-downs learned the hard way in pubs from Alnwick down to Middlesborough.
"Number 565," she said, to rapurous applause.
Next came a pale young man from London, fairly fresh to the hurly-burly of the northern Working Mens' Club circuit. He cleared his throat and with as much charm as he could muster, said
"My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen - number 97."
You could have heard a pin drop in a pin factory in Pin City. The young comic wished the ground would swallow him up. In the history of corpsing, nobody had corpsed so quickly or so completely since the Black Death. He crept the 137,000 miles back to his chair and slunk into his seat. The comic sitting next to him - an old-fashioned Northern gagmeister who'd been wowing audiences for half a century, leaned over in an avuncular manner.
"Don't worry son," he said, "it's not t' joke, it's the way you tell it."
Ba-boom, and, moreover, tish.
Now, when I was telling this joke to Crox Minor over lunch today, her reaction was, to say the least, unexpected. "Considered as Set Theory," she said, "would that joke have been included in the Official Book of Jokes?"
I have taught her too well...