[The “Express” offer of £25 to the owner of the first parrot able to speak distinctly the ridiculous phrase “Your food will cost you more” has had a depressing effect on The Parrot. 1]


Sad, indeed, the bird’s condition
When he heard that opposition
Parrots might repeat the falsehood
That was all his own before.
For he looked with keen suspicion
On this talking competition
Which implied that simple twaddle
Was “Your food will cost you more”.

“Bird”, I said, “the country’s laughing
At your folly, and their chaffing
Must to you be very painful,
As all humour you ignore;
Yet while lie on lie you’re raining,
How can you begin complaining
That we jeer at your suggestion
That ‘Our food will cost us more’?”

And no answer gave the Polly,
Save a glance so melancholy
That I saw he was disheartened,
Less aggressive than before;
And no secret I’m divulging
If I say he will indulge in
Less of his absurd assertions,
Such as “Food will cost you more”.

Yet I doubt not on occasion,
When the “Stomach tax” evasion
Forms the text for Hugh or Winnie,
Or the Public Orator, 2
That the Parrot, proudly stalking
From seclusion, will be talking
In his false and foolish manner,
Food, dear friends, will cost you more”.


The Daily Express reported on 9 November that music-hall comedian Dan Leno, who owned three talking parrots, was trying to teach them to say “Your food will cost you more!”, but the sagacious birds absolutely decline to repeat the sentence. Leno said that a knowledgeable friend had told him the parrots are naturally of a suspicious nature, and want the thing explained to them properly. He suggests that I should read all Mr Chamberlain’s speeches on the fiscal policy to them, but I can’t do that, as I have to go to Drury Lane at Christmas. A day later it had a report about bird dealers in St Martin’s Lane and district who were engaged in a competition to see who could be the first to teach a parrot to repeat the phrase: So far the birds are all pretty much on the same level. They say “Your food”, and then stick, and all efforts to get them to complete the sentence have failed. One dealer said that he was going to use a phonograph, with an electric motor attached, to repeat the phrase for twenty-four hours without stopping. Another said that his parrot had got as far as “Your food” and he hoped the bird would complete the sentence in a week or two. The paper reported that the famous talking parrot in the Old Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street had been instructed daily for four weeks but would only say “Your food will—Poor Polly!” and When further pressed, the parrot uses such strenuous language that two of the kitchen-maids have handed in their resignations.

On 11 November, the Express announced that it was offering a prize of £25 to the owner of the first parrot able to speak the phrase distinctly and that subsequently a competition would be held at which prizes would be given to owners of the parrots speaking the sentence most distinctly.

A week later, in its issue of 18 November, Punch published the following piece about the Express’s competition:


(With acknowledgements to the “Daily Express”.)

    [A prize of £25 is offered by the “Express” to the owner of the first parrot able to speak distinctly the phrase, “Your food will cost you more”.]

I have got a talking Polly
And I thought it would be jolly
If (as pounds with me are scarce) I
Could increase my slender store;
What a simple undertaking!
Five-and-twenty pounds for making
My old parrot learn one sentence,
Viz. “Your food will cost you more!”

Full of hope I started teaching,
And the parrot started screeching,
And I tried my very utmost
Every day from ten to four.
Then a phonograph I bought him,
And with this for hours I taught him,
But he merely looked sagacious,
And politely asked for more.

Then a sudden madness took me,
And a frightful passion shook me,
And I seized that stupid parrot
And I dashed him to the floor;
But, oh heavens, as he lay there,
What was that I heard him say there?
With his dying breath I heard him
Say, “Your food will cost you more!”


“Hugh” is Lord Hugh Cecil (see poem 04 fn 03), “Winnie” is Winston Churchill (see poem 04 fn 02), and “the Public Orator” is Lord Rosebery (see poem 14 fn 06).

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