[To the birds who to-morrow will compete for the £25 prize in the absurd phrase “Your food will cost you more”.]


Parrots young and parrots mellow,
Parrots grey and parrots yellow,
Welcome to the competition
Which you now have entered for! 2
Birds of every coloured feather,
Raise your beaks and squawk together
That absurd, untruthful motto,
Brothers, food will cost you more”.

’Tis a lie—of course we know it—
But the simplest way to show it
Is to scream the words distinctly,
Ending with a loud guffaw.
Every man with sense or learning
Will with ease be then discerning
That you’re jeering at the falsehood
Of “Your food will cost you more”.

Human parrots, imitating
Your remarks, have been orating
On their fiscal “Little Marys” 3
Till we voted them a bore;
For free fooders are so foolish,
So intensely vain and mulish
That they came to think that really
Food was going to cost them more.

After all, what does it matter
If they imitate your chatter?
We can all afford to chuckle
At the errors they adore.
For we know, my learned pollies,
They are steeped in fiscal follies
While each one of you is certain
That Our food will NOT cost more.


This poem appeared under the heading “Parrots”.


This was a competition which the Express had first announced on 11 November (see poem 38 fn 01). On 1 December, the paper announced that the competition would take place in the Central Saloon, St James’ Restaurant, Piccadilly, on Thursday afternoon, December 17, with tickets priced at 2s 6d for reserved seats, 1s for unreserved, and that, after deducting the expenses of the hall, the balance of the receipts would be handed over to the Tariff Reform League.

During the days leading up to the competition, the paper had much fun reporting the alleged behaviour of potential contestants. A man who had been committed to prison for debt was said to have applied to have his parrot with him, being confident that he could win the prize, pay off his debt, and make a fresh start. Other contestants were said to include a sailor aboard the royal yacht Victoria and Albert and a lighthouse-keeper.

“Your food will cost you more” is not a very difficult sentence for a well-educated fiscal parrot to utter, the paper declared on 16 December, and, judging by the number of letters received by the “Express”, tomorrow’s contest will be a close and exciting one.

An account of proceedings at the contest, headed “Screech Day”, appeared on the front page of the Express on 18 December; Wodehouse’s notebook, “Money Received for Literary Work”, indicates that he was the author. A subsidiary report, with cartoon sketches, appeared on an inside page. The event even made the New York newspapers. In its column “Topics of the Week in the British Capital” the New York Times of 20 December summed up the show with the comment:

As a parrot show The Express’s exhibition was not much of a success, but as a bit of clever political satire it accomplished its purpose.

The New York Tribune of 23 December repeated a story from the Express’s subsidiary report, about how another bird had responded to the winner’s “Your food will cost you more” with “Liar!”.

On 26 December, the Express reported:

>The famous parrot which won the first prize at the “Express” parrot competition for repeating the absurd phrase, “Your food will cost you more”, is one of the attractions in the “Crusoe’s Hut” scene of the Christmas pantomime produced by Mr Alexander Henderson at Fulham Theatre on Thursday night. The bird is suffering from shyness at present, but as he is credited with using language of the most shocking kind, a habit induced, no doubt, by his distate for the “phrase” he was forced to repeat, he may yet startle the audience at the Fulham Theatre.


See poem 06 fn 02.

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