Friday, 23 December 2011


In the words of a recent BBC press-release: "On the day before Christmas, BBC Radio 4 Extra has myriad yuletide classics..." one of which, I have (immodestly) to confess is a programme by Yours Truly!

Thirty-four years ago, I submitted what was only my second programme for radio and which is now one of Radio 4 Extra's "yuletide classics".

Entitled ...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree, it's a quirky take on that well-known song about the seasonal gifts which someone sent to his True Love on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

It was, I later discovered, not exactly a new joke and it has been re-worked by many others since, but it had the distinctive twist of literally following the cumulative list in the lyrics, thus providing the recipient not with one partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens and so on, but with twelve partridges, twenty-two turtle doves, thirty French hens and so forth.

I was extremely fortunate in having Penelope Keith (left) then at the height of her fame as Margot Leadbetter in the wildly successful TV sit-com, The Good Life, play Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, the increasingly harassed lady who has to cope with (among other nuisances) forty maids a-milking, thirty-six ladies dancing, thirty lords a-leaping and twenty-two pipers piping...

...And Yet Another Partridge
was repeated annually for many years and is still broadcast at Christmas from America to Australia. In fact, every year I get requests for copies of the broadcast (which unfortunately is not possible because the BBC have never commercially released the programme) and transcripts of Miss Bracegirdle's correspondence.

Anyway, if – like others – you remember this little piece of fluff and would like to hear it again or if you've never heard it and think it might tickle your funny bone (as, indeed, I believe it might), then TODAY'S the DAY!

This tragi-comic tale gets yet another outing this afternoon on BBC Radio 4 Extra and the partridges start coming home to roost at 14.40, after which, it can be heard on 'Listen Again' via BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

And as a little Christmas Gift from Me to You, here are the uncensored Bracegirdle Letters (illustrated with photographs of the fabulous 2007 window displays from the Piccadilly emporium of Messrs Fortnum and Mason); you may care to ponder its message as you wrap - and unwrap - your Christmas gifts!


A Cautionary Tale for Christmas Showing
that it is Better to Give than to Receive

by Brian Sibley

My very dearest Algy,

How can I begin to thank you for your charming Christmas gift? What
luxury! My very own pear tree, with that dear little pheasant in it - or is it supposed to be a partridge? You really are a foolish boy! Actually, the birdie isn't wildly attractive, but the pear tree should be lovely - when pears are in season again.

Thank you, my darling.

All my love - forever.

Your ownest affectionate,


My dearest Algy,

You are quite impossible, my love. The turtle doves are
adorable! They're already cooing away like anything; and, I must say, their amorous behavior leaves very little to the imagination. But I expect they will settle down in time.

Thank you, my sweeting.

Affectionately yours,


PS: I almost forgot to thank you for the second partridge-in-pear-tree thing: it balances up the other side of the fireplace so nicely.

Dearest Algernon,

You know, poppet, you are simply going too,
too far! Your latest gift has just been delivered: what an imaginative boy you are to think of sending me something as unusual as three French hens. I'm only sorry that I hadn't told you that I am allergic to eggs. Never mind I can always sell some to the neighbours who, incidentally, have been much entertained by the sight of the postman struggling along each morning with the pear trees. Much love, Cynthia

Dear Algernon,

I suppose it's silly of me, but I am seriously beginning to wonder whether you aren't trying to get me to start an aviary. Your four 'colly birds' have just arrived and could, more aptly, be described as '
call-y birds', since that is what they seem to do best! Perhaps you could let me know whether colly birds are in the laying business or whether they are intended for human consumption; Mrs Beeton is, I find, surprisingly silent on the matter.

I can honestly say, Algernon, that I'd always thought birds were rather pleasant little creatures,
until you gave me this opportunity of observing them at such close quarters.



PS: I do hope you got a reasonable discount on all the pear trees.

Algernon, Thank you for your latest gift of five curtain rings, a somewhat curious present but, nevertheless, a refreshing change from all those very pretty, but somewhat noisy, birds you will keep sending me. I doubt if I should have bought so large a turkey for Christmas had I known what you had in mind. Could we ease up a bit on the fowl, do you think? Cordially, Cynthia

Dear Algernon Fotherington-Smythe,

I see we are back with the birds again! Your six geese a-laying have just arrived, and are happily doing so for all they're worth. I rather thought I'd mentioned to you how it was with me and eggs...

Thank you for putting me right about the curtain rings - I never could tell the difference between brass and gold. Of course, I am very pleased that you should have thought of sending me
another five, just so that I have one for every finger. But as I now have more hens, doves and partridges than I rightly know how to cope with, and as they aren't too fussy about personal hygiene, I seldom seem to have my hands out of a bucket of water long enough to try them on! Yours, Cynthia B

Dear Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

I have just succeeded in accommodating your seven swans a-swimming
in my bath - which was no mean achievement when one considers the number of pear trees on the landing! Regrettably, the geese got to the rings before I could, so that's probably the last we've seen of them - would I could say the same for the geese! I must now ask you to desist from sending me any more of these well-intentioned but slightly impracticable gifts. Cynthia Bracegirdle PS: I hadn't realised just how messy moulting partridges can be, or how badly they seem to get on in captivity with other birds.

Mr Fotherington-Smythe,

Fresh milk is one thing, eight enormous Friesians in the drawing room is something else altogether!

True, the milkmaids have a certain rustic charm, but you wouldn't believe how much they eat. You may also care to note that my bath has only so much room in it for swans with a seemingly insatiable urge to be a-swimming, and it will definitely
not hold fourteen of them! Take that from one who has tried!

Please call a halt to this absurd behavior.

Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle

Mr Smythe!

Thanks to your weird sense of humor, my house is now in utter chaos! As if it wasn't bad enough having sixteen cows producing milk by the gallon, we now have nine 'ladies' - as you amusingly call them - dancing here, there and everywhere, one of whom seems to be working out a somewhat extraordinary routine involving several doves and a goose!

The most charitable view I can take of your actions is that you are out of your tiny mind.

Enough's enough!


Miss C Bracegirdle

PS: Fortunately, one of the partridges has just drowned itself in a bucket of milk.

Unspeakable wretch!

Your misguided generosity has apparently now led you to suppose that I could find some use for ten Lords a-leaping. They might lend a hand with cleaning up all the rancid milk and bird-lime - if they'd only stop leaping around after the dancing girls for five minutes!

I understand the entire neighborhood is now up in arms about it all and the Residents' Association has sent a petition to the local Member of Parliament.

Thumping on the front door at this precise moment are no less that two dozen representatives from various government bodies and from the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to hens, doves, geese, swans, cows, partridges and, for all I know, pear trees! And the bizarre inter-breeding amongst the birds is to be the subject of an article by a leading ornithologist in the next issue of
Bird Monthly!

The recent outbreaks of crop-blight, fowl-pest and foot-and-mouth disease have now reached
epidemic proportions; and if the antics I witnessed behind the pear trees this afternoon are anything to go by, several of the milkmaids should soon find themselves in, what polite society calls, an interesting condition.

For your information, I have now reached the end of my tether - which is more than can be said for those damn cows of yours!

C Bracegirdle (Miss)


Have you got even the remotest idea what eleven pipers piping sounds like at two o'clock in the morning? Of course, it only adds very slightly to the hideous cacophony of noise that I must now daily endure. I swear there's more mooing, cooing, honking, clucking and calling here than in the zoological gardens. If there were any room left, I might seriously consider opening the place to the public.

Your latest shipment of lords, ladies and livestock is now settled into the furore and by the same post came received a letter advising of a visit which the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries intends to make this afternoon - supposing he can get in the door that is!

One good thing at least is that the latest influx of birds have put the cows off giving milk; I can hear them now - uprooting the pear trees in the orchard I once called a living room!

My landlord has taken out an eviction order against me, as he claims, somewhat surprisingly, that the terms of my lease do not cover utilisation of the premises as a menagerie, dancing school, smallholding or annex of the House of Lords.


PS: Please be advised that all future correspondence between us will be handled by my solicitors, Messrs Grabble, Twister and Fleecem.

Grabble, Twister and Fleecem Chancey Chambers Suet-under-Writ (Off the Eastbourne Road) Sussex

Dear Mr Smith,

Re: Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, deceased

We are the executors of the estate of the above-named deceased, and are writing to acknowledge receipt of your recent delivery of twelve drummers drumming.

You will no doubt be distressed to learn that, shortly after the arrival of these gentlemen, our client, in what must be described as a somewhat deranged state of mind, travelled to Eastbourne and threw herself off the top of Beachy Head.

Before taking this step, however, she left instructions with ourselves for the adding of a codicil to her Last Will and Testament, under which you become her sole beneficiary and legatee.

I am, therefore, arranging for the following items to be delivered to you later this day:

12 drummers drumming
22 pipers piping
30 lords a-leaping
36 ladies dancing
40 maids a-milking
42 swans a-swimming
42 geese a-laying
40 gold rings
36 colly birds
30 French hens
22 turtle doves
and 11 partridges with 12 accompanying pear trees.

With our sincere congratulations on your inheritance and assuring you of our best attention at all times,

Yours faithfully,

Grabble, Twister and Fleecem

...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 1977 and starred PENELOPE KEITH as Cynthia Bracegirdle with TIMOTHY BATESON as Mr Graball. The programme was directed by JOHN THEOCHARIS.

Text and photographs: © Brian Sibley, 1977, 2007, 2011


scb said...

Love it, love it, love it!

Thanks to the time difference between my part of the world and yours, I was able to read this on December 23rd, and thus spread the delight across Christmas Eve Eve, as well as Christmas Eve (and likely Christmas and Boxing Day as well, because one listen per year is not enough, although more than one partridge in a pear tree apparently is more than enough.)

Thank you, Brian!

Boll Weavil said...

It's a fitting tribute to your thirty years of radio that you have now become as much a part of Christmas as Dickens himself. Aside from any radio offerings, your FATM and Humbug are regular staples of my festive celebrations as is 'Christmas Carol'. I have to admit that I love 4 Extra. Just a glance at its schedules for this year makes me think that the Beeb have been rifling through my cassette box ! I love it.And so, as I run off to locate Scrooge (1970 vintage)and load it into the DVD machine, it seems to be time again to wish you, David and all your blog contributors the best of seasonal good wishes and a good new year also from your faithful friend and servant BW

Sheila said...

What lovely photos!

And what good timing for "And Yet Another ... " In spite of the unseasonal weather, I feel very Chritsmassy after making mince pies while listening to Penelope Keith followed by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on R4. (And having watched The Muppet Christmas Carol!)

Happy Christmas to you and yours - and to all your readers

SharonM said...


Brian Sibley said...

SCB – It even still makes me laugh and I wrote it and have heard it more times than I care to remember. By the way, next time you are listening, I am one of the 10 lords a-leaping, "haw-hawing" away in the background!

Boll – I have no more loyal and devoted advocate than you! It is good to feel, as one's star passes its zenith, that a few Bits of Things will – for a short while, at least – hover around! Love, as ever, to you all!

Sheila – Fondest love to all at the Hippodrome!

Sharon – And also, my dear, to you and Suzanne!