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Sejarah Melayu

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Those of us who have wondered what our former British colonial masters were like can read a wealth of literature from them - whether it is the records and journals of administrators such as Hugh Clifford and Frank Swettenham, or the prose of writers such as W Somerset Maugham and Anthony Burgess.

However, if one only wanted a quick three-minute snapshot of what they were like, the famous song 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' probably does it best. This tongue-in-cheek lampoon of the British colonial mentality was written in 1932 by perhaps Britain's finest wit, composer and theatrical bon-vivant, Noel Coward.

Noel Coward

The Victoria Theatre,
Incidentally, this was two years after he'd visited Malaya, where he played the part of Captain Stanhope in the play `Journey's End' which was being presented by a visiting dramatic troupe at Singapore's Victoria Theatre (still there today, at Empress Place).

This light-hearted dig at colonial society is not surprising coming from Coward, who's work frequently parodies and ridicules the social snobbery and hedonism of British colonials. He certainly did not seem to have had a lot of respect for the people sent to administer this particular corner of British Empire, once quipping that Malaya was a "first-rate country for second-rate people."

Below are the lyrics to this wonderful ditty - and note the references to the Malay States and the mysterious 'Malay rabbit'! Click here for a recording of the first chorus of the song (as sung by Coward and the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1932) in the form of a .WAV file (375Kb)

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

by Noel Coward

In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire to tear their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of the rules that the greatest fools obey,
Because the sun is much too sultry
And one must avoid its ultry-violet ray.
The natives grieve when the white men leave their huts,
Because they're obviously, definitely nuts!

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,
The Japanese don´t care to, the Chinese wouldn´t dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one
But Englishmen detest-a siesta.
In the Philippines they have lovely screens to protect you from the glare.
In the Malay States, there are hats like plates which the Britishers won't wear.
At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

It's such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see,
that though the English are effete, they're quite impervious to heat,
When the white man rides every native hides in glee,
Because the simple creatures hope he will impale his solar topee on a tree.
It seems such a shame when the English claim the earth,
They give rise to such hilarity and mirth.
Ha ha ha ha hoo hoo hoo hoo hee hee hee hee ......

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The toughest Burmese bandit can never understand it.
In Rangoon the heat of noon is just what the natives shun,
They put their Scotch or Rye down, and lie down.
In a jungle town where the sun beats down to the rage of man and beast
The English garb of the English sahib merely gets a bit more creased.
In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
The smallest Malay rabbit deplores this foolish habit.
In Hong Kong they strike a gong and fire off a noonday gun,
To reprimand each inmate who's in late.
In the mangrove swamps where the python romps
there is peace from twelve till two.
Even caribous lie around and snooze, for there's nothing else to do.
In Bengal to move at all is seldom ever done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

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