By Gavin Sandford-Morgan, 1970
The commencement of this codified form of communication was really quite innocent and simple.
I was experiencing some trouble with the carburetter of my Six Cylinder 40/50 Rolls-Royce, and had come to the conclusion that the trouble might lie in a worn throttle body. I therefore cabled the Factory, asking them to send me a new throttle body. A day or so later, back came the reply:
"ADVISE WHETHER PRAWN OR PAPAW".Well now, that's a good question. Leaving aside the somewhat unfriendly overtones (for an Australian) in the word PRAWN, there still lay the personal preference for sea-food or tropical fruit. Since I happen to like both, there was a distinct danger of my being led off down an interesting gastronomical by-way, but I put these possibilities sternly to one side, and concentrated on the matter in hand.
Coming back to the carburetter, in some puzzlement I cabled back:
"PREFER PRAWN TO PAPAW AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, BUT STILL NEED THROTTLE BODY AS WELL".I might have realised, of course, that I wouldn't have been let off so lightly, and true to Rolls-Royce tradition, the legendary insistence on detail, and correctly specified detail at that, back came the stern reply:
TIME OF YEAR NOT RELEVANT STOP DO YOU REQUIRE PRAWN WITH HUMAN PROBE PRONG AND PROOF? SUGGEST YOU CHECK PATOR".Now, this is hardly the sort of cable one expects to receive from Rolls-Royce. While I grant that my dear departed Pater would have promptly grasped the subtleties of both the apparent and the real wording of the cable, I didn't quite see Rolls-Royce's justification for dragging him into it. after all, I've always been in the forefront of those who, rightly, debunk the story that one's antecedents are carefully studied by Rolls-Royce before a decision is made to let you have one of their cars or not.
Getting down to brass tacks (and being a Northern Firm, the choice of the adjective is deliberate), I firmly believe that the only research that Rolls-Royce ever did, or do, into a potential buyer's antecedents is to ensure that the cheque is likely to be met by the bank. And very prudent too.
Meanwhile, back at the carburetter. I'll thank you, gentlemen, to leave my Pater (even if you can't spell it) out of this PROOF or no PROOF.
I was about to consult my Solicitors, to see what grounds I had for a profitable libel action, before placing the whole correspondence in the hands of the Attorney-General for prosecution of the offending Company for "using Her Majesty's Postal Service for the conveyance of suggestive messages", when I decided to make a final check of my "Catalogue of Parts for Six Cylinder 40-50 H.P. Rolls-Royce Car".
It was then that I found that Rolls-Royce were in fact merely taking
"advantage of using the code word, being that in the event of an error in a telegram [not R-R, you note] the word may be recognised, whilst an error in a number would probably [margin even here, for R-R to rise above even abnormal difficulties] lead to despatch of a part totally different from the one required".
Jolly good - ten out of ten for R-R - with, perhaps, one off for over confidence.
I then laboriously worked out the appropriate code-words and replied:
"PATOR FITS WELL WITH REASONABLE TOLERANCE AND WITHOUT UNDUE INTERFERENCE STOP WHAT PRICE PRICE?"Reply came back:
"PRICE PRICE 3/6 SUGGEST NEW PROSY"From which I wondered whether R-R had referred my cable to their Controller of Modern English Usage (R-R Edition) for adverse comment on my choice of wording and phraseology.
From then on, of course, the temptation to couch all correspondence on R-R matters in terms of their own code, now that the potentials of such a means of communication had been glimpsed, was almost irresistible. After all, who could resist the temptation to replace his magneto on its FITLY, taking care to engage the FLOSS, and then tighten down the FIVES with the FLUES on the FLOUR?
Or to ponder the sober thought that the main screw which locates the petrol filter, and retains the essential air pressure is forever labelled UNDUN?
Shortly after this interchange with R-R a new man joined my service, his duties being, primarily, the care, maintenance, humouring, nurturing and operation of my 40/50 h.p. car. In his systematic way, he asked to be given detailed written instructions on his duties and responsibilities. In particular, he asked for detailed instructions on the actual operation of the Rolls-Royce car. In view of the obvious advantages of inculcating him properly into all the atmosphere of the R-R mystique, I therefore prepared the following instructions:
In case of emergency, UNBAR!
Bibliography: Illustrated Catalogue of Parts for Six Cylinder 40-50 H.P. Rolls-Royce Car - Series 1100, 1200. 1300, together with some references to volume covering up to Series 2600.