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Everything Stops for Tea is a song written by Maurice Sigler with lyrics by Al Goodheart and American Al Hoffman, for the 1935 musical Come Out Of The Pantry. It is about tea being England’s favourite drink, however both the composer and the musical were American. Jack Buchanan performed the song for the musical and recorded another version which you can watch here.

Despite tea rationing during the Second World War, the English were addicted to the drink throughout the following decades. The Ministry of Food used the song in its 1940 exhibition and workers expected 15 minute tea breaks twice a day in all British industries in the 1950s, much to the annoyance of managers aiming to boost productivity.

Everything stops for tea – Jack Buchanan

Every nation in creation has its favourite drink
France is famous for its wine, it’s beer in Germany
Turkey has its coffee and they serve it blacker than ink
Russians go for vodka and England loves its tea

Oh, the factories may be roaring
With a boom-a-lacka, zoom-a-lacka, wee
But there isn’t any roar when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, a lawyer in the courtroom
In the middle of an alimony plea
Has to stop and help ’em pour when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

It’s a very good English custom
Though the weather be cold or hot
When you need a little pick-up, you’ll find a little tea cup
Will always hit the spot

You remember Cleopatra
Had a date to meet Mark Anthony at three
When he came an hour late she said “You’ll have to wait”
For everything stops for tea

Oh, they may be playing football
And the crowd is yelling “Kill the referee!”
But no matter what the score, when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, the golfer may be golfing
And is just about to make a hole-in-three
But it always gets them sore when the clock yells “four!”
Everything stops for tea

It’s a very good English custom
And a stimulant for the brain
When you feel a little weary, a cup’ll make you cheery
And it’s cheaper than champagne

Now I know just why Franz Schubert
Didn’t finish his unfinished symphony
He might have written more but the clock struck four
And everything stops for tea


brummelOn this day in 1778, George Bryan Brummell (known as Beau Brummell) was born in Downing Street London. His father was private secretary to the prime minister, Lord North, and his family was very upwardly mobile, living at The Grove, in Donnington, Berkshire. In 1786 George was sent to Eton College. From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

He was also popular among fellow students for his wit, refinement, and a fascination with matters of dress and poise which defined his adult life and, as a schoolboy, earned him the sobriquet Buck Brummell.

Brummell went to Oxford for one term before inheriting  a fortune on his father’s death. He met George, prince of Wales at Whig society balls held at Eton and they became close. Brummell was offered a cornetcy in his personal regiment, the 10th hussars, and was promoted  to captain. He wasn’t much of a soldier and spent most of his time accompanying the prince to social events.

He became a leading member of London society, moving to 4 Chesterfield Street, Mayfair and holding many social occasions for the fashionable elite and aristocracy including the Prince. Oxford DNB:

The years between Brummell’s move to Chesterfield Street and his departure from England in 1816 witnessed the apogee of the fashion for dandyism of which Brummell was the leading exponent. The culture was characterized by its reaction against the excessive dress and manners of eighteenth-century men of fashion whose gentility had been defined by the magnificence and luxury of clothing and the fineness or delicacy of conversation. Dandyism, by contrast, drew on earlier English qualities—independence, self-command, capriciousness, and a hint of puritanism—to offer a rival style based on meticulous but simple tailoring and imperious, and therefore often impolite, displays of mannered etiquette.

Brummell’s concern for elegance and fashion led to a new way of dressing: a move away from breeches and stockings towards full-length trousers, shirts, starched cravats, waistcoats and long coats. He was known for his snobbishness, competitiveness, elegance, self-confidence and display.

Statue of beau Brummell on Jermyn Street in Westminster

Statue of beau Brummell on Jermyn Street in Westminster

His personality and celebrity caused him to eventually fall out with the Prince of Wales, but he simply moved to 13 Chapel Street in 1812 to establish a new social circle around the duke and duchess of York. Short of money, he turned to gambling, which gave him mixed success. In 1814 he was denounced by fellow members of White’s Club and left England for France on 16 May 1816. He spent the rest of his life in France, continuing his lifestyle despite further financial difficulties.

There have been many television and film adaptations of his life story, including a 1924 film, a 1954 film starring  Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor and a 2006 BBC TV movie starring James Purefoy.

The phrase ‘motley crew’ derives from the eighteenth century. ‘Motley’ is a medieval word meaning mixed in colour and often referred to clothing. The Motley was therefore the court jester due to his multi-coloured costume.

The meaning of the word then developed to mean ‘mixed bag’ or ‘various things’ so the phrase ‘motley crew’ began to be used to mean ‘a roughly-organized assembly of characters’. The first use is found in 1748 in George Anson’s Voyage Round the World:

With this motley crew (all of them except the European Spaniards extremely averse to the voyage) Pizarro set sail from Monte Video.

By the nineteenth century, ‘motley crew’ was an well-used cliché. It refers to a mixed group of unlikely heroes coming together to overcome adversity. It most often referred to pirates and is now a common archetype for sports and science fiction stories.

Somebody drew my attention towards the term lukewarm yesterday, wondering why we add the word luke to warm to mean tepid. The term derives from Middle English, first used in the 14th century, when the word ‘luke’ was a adjective meaning tepid or warm. luke derives from leuk, a word first used around 1200, but with an unknown origin.

There are many suggestions for its origin however and there are many clear parallels with other langauges. It has been suggested that leuk  may have derived from the word leuk (meaning tepid/weak) in Middle Dutch or Old Frisian, a language spoken on the northern coast of modern Netherlands and Germany before 1500. It could also have come from the Old English term hleowe, meaning warm.

Modern connections are found in the Dutch word lauw, meaning tepid or indifferent, the German lauwarm, meaning lukewarm and the Danish word lunken, meaning half-hearted. Clearly the word derives from the original Proto-Germanic language of Europe.

In English, the use of lukewarm to mean “indifferent” or “lacking in zeal” dates from the 1520s.

This cliché first developed in the 18th century and means to take over somebody’s idea, fame or recognition or to draw people’s attention towards oneself at the expense of someone else. The phrase originates from the theatre at a time when new methods of creating stage thunder were being invented.

Writer and critic John Dennis invented one successful new method of creating the sound of thunder on stage for his play Appius and Virginia in 1709, however his play was a box office failure. The invention of the sound effect however proved very popular and was used immediately afterwards in a highly-praised production of Macbeth applaud.

This frustrated John Dennis greatly and he apparently said: ‘Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder’. It seems that this was the origin of the phrase, so at least Dennis created something that definitely lasted!

The superstitious phrase ‘touch wood’ is one with many contested origins and it is still not clear which is the correct one. In the UK, many people still touch wood and use the phrase when they talk about their luck or mention their own death and want to stop their words from “tempting fate” and jinxing future good fortune. In the US the phrase ‘knock on wood’ is more commonly used.

Many believe that the phrase derives from the pagan belief that good and evil spirits lived in trees and touching the wood of a tree would gain the blessing of the spirits and stop them bringing misfortune on the speaker. The idea of the two ‘knocks’ is that one knock on the tree would ask the spirits for good luck and the second knock would thank the spirits.

Another interpretation of the phrase is that it is Christian, possibly adapted from the pagan original. The wood could refer to the Cross and thus touching wood meant that you were requesting the blessing of God.

However old the original custom is, it appears that the established phrase is relatively modern. The first recorded use of ‘touch wood’ is in 1899 and ‘knock on wood’ in 1905.

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