Mind your language

Very bad poems on the Underground

Who is McBess, and why can’t he draw eyes or count syllables?

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

My husband was surprised by quite a bit when we travelled by Underground in London the other day. Although he has a Nelson Mandela Memorial Freedom Pass, he seldom chooses to join us Morlocks down below. ‘Is this the work of a Chinaman?’ he asked, nodding towards a poster. ‘You mustn’t say “Chinaman”, dear,’ I said firmly.

The poster showed people with vertical slits for eyes and no noses. They stood hunched in an Underground carriage, dressed in T-shirts, as if in a scene from some dystopian film like Idiocracy. Above the image, words were arranged in lines: ‘We really don’t mean to chide / But try to move along inside, / So fellow travellers won’t have to face / An invasion of their personal space.’


The arrangement indicated verse, but the lines didn’t begin to scan. Nor did scraps of verse on other posters in the series — on feeling sick, on moving along the platform and on free newspapers blocking the doors. (I don’t see what I can do about that.)

Each poster was drawn, at the behest of M&C Saatchi (paid by Transport for London and the Mayor of London forsooth) by someone called McBess. He is a Frenchman, aged 29, real name Matthieu Bessudo. He is known to readers of the magazines Juxtapoz, The Illustrated Ape and Hi-Fructose. The animated video for the song ‘Wood (Dirty Melody)’ by his band the Dead Pirates is widely enjoyed. But not by me.

The advertising people were asked to ‘encourage positive behaviour change on London’s transport network’. Their response implies that if a cool illustrator shows people unpleasantly putting their feet up or eating a disgusting burger on a train, it will discourage his admirers. One of the few comments on a website devoted to the initiative says: ‘What’s the point of the strange vertical slits for eyes in these posters?’

What’s the point, I should like to know, of such poor verse, in the metre neither of limericks nor of cautionary tales, nor of any other rhymes. ‘We love those papers you get for free/ But, we’re sure that you’ll agree/ That love very quickly turns to hate/ If they block the doors and make us late.’ Serves them right, I say.

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