The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

‘Dr Brombos’: Pre-Second World War humour magazine

Friday, 22 October 2021, 11:26 Last update: about 2 months ago

Anthony Zarb Dimech

One of the best natural healing medicines that comes free of charge is humour, joy and laughter. In a fast-moving world, where our minds are caught up with so much distraction, preoccupations and anxiety, humour, (though desired and palatable) might be just a quick fleeting experience and the last thing on people's minds. In pre-war Malta, humour was ingrained in society and part and parcel of Maltese custom and folklore with magazines fully-fledged on quips and cranks wholly dedicated to satire. Malta, should we say had a much more humoristic vein. Dr Brombos illustrates this.

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As the world edged closely towards a Second World War, Maltese folk sought to keep their minds busy. Popular forms of entertainment included humour magazines, films, soccer and other pursuits that kept the mind busy and relaxed. It is truly amazing how serious matters can be given a satirical touch and hence presented as a way of softening the threat of massive warfare looming on the horizon.

In deep contrast to pre-war days, we live at a time of the increasing role and rise of the social media platforms such as Facebook and Google. Technology has also developed online publications that are growing increasingly popular. There is also a rise in citizen publications and online blogs that can instil some sense of farce to what many see as a crazy world. These are slowly and by and large eradicating printed material, including humour magazines.

 

The layout of 'Doctor Brombos'

Doctor Brombos was a Maltese language humour magazine published fortnightly by the Lux Press at 177, St Christopher Street, Valletta. In substance, it was not merely intended to make people laugh because it also carried short, but to the point complaints to the government of the day about matters that required a degree of attention from the authorities. In fact, the second page of the issue of 5 March 1938 had a number of such "on the dot" comments (translated from Maltese to English):

  • A complaint about two pieces of legislation that were required to protect the worker (Compensation for Sickness and an Old Age Pension). The situation at the time was that when a worker suffered an injury on duty he/she was compensated, but when he/she fell sick he/she were at the mercy of the employer for compensation. The complaint went further to state that it was only a minority of employers who chose to compensate workers on sick leave because they did it out of their initiative not by any law enforcement.
  • Another complaint was about meat being brought to the market in Valletta when it was full of shoppers, with the risk of people's clothes being tainted with the blood of this meat. The dealings between the retailers and the meat suppliers also took place during shop hours and were causing a nuisance to the shoppers.
  • With regard to soccer, a complaint addressed betting at the Floriana football pitch. Due to betting taking place there, the pitch was closed and games were transferred to Corradino in Paola with the resulting inconvenience of spectators having to commute there. Games at Corradino were being played behind closed doors because of betting. The complainant further added that this was one of the reasons why Maltese soccer in Malta is not progressing.

The newspaper of 5 March 1938 was satirically critical of government's policies and addressed in poetic form the need for taxes to be less heavy towards the working classes. The poem also called for more excise duties on women's cosmetics such as powders and colours used in make-up.

When Britain entered the war in 1939, the newspaper brought forward comments about Heater (Hitler) and Mussolinu (Musollini). Also, a whole page was dedicated to the inclusion of anecdotes by great men. This space was the "baby" of a certain Salvu Agius. For example the issue of 17 February 1940 carried an anecdote by Renato Descartes where it was stated that this philosopher held dearly to his heart the saying or motto, bene qui latuit, bene vivit (who lives in hiding, lives happily). When asked about what in Descartes opinion are the rarest and most precious things in life, Descartes replied that they are three: "a perfect orator, a good book and a woman without defect".

Other regular contributors to the newspaper were the following:

  • Giov. Saliba
  • Gius Vella
  • Marjanu Chetcuti
  • G. Pollacco
  • Ros. Catania
  • G. Micallef
  • C. Dimech
  • Paulu Sammut
  • G. Zahra
  • Other contributors went by nom-de-plume

The newspaper seemed to have had quite a readership and many firms advertised in it products and services ranging from cigarettes, furniture, toffee, new books, portable gramophones, shoe polish and the last successes of songs on Regal-Zonophone discs. The paper also had a small space reserved for illustrated humour in caricature form. It also advertised films that were being shown in cinemas and also operas in theatres.

In the 27 April 1940 issue, the attention of the Food Control Officer was drawn for action to be taken with regard to grocers in Haż-Żabbar that were charging one half-penny more in their prices and hence, inspections were needed to be carried out to control such abuse.

The issue of 11 May 1940 carried a poem to be sung on the melody of the fox-trot, Joseph Joseph titled Fil Black Out! (during the Black Out!) It was written by a certain Ben. Casha from Senglea.

As war loomed on the horizon, the newspaper continued with its humorous vein and beefed up its complaints page, which included suggestions, comments and criticism of the evacuation of families from Valletta to Birkirkara by truck. In the issue of 8 June 1940, it was stated one family was charged 1 pound sterling for one journey. The complainant added that this was theft and that the police was duty bound to establish a tariff system for these trucks so that during time of panic they were not charged exaggeratedly.

In the same issue, the attention was drawn to the authorities that every person in Malta should be taught how to defend himself/herself by being taught how to fire a revolver and a rifle, so that if the need arose to defend one's family, people would be able and ready to do so. The suggestion was that these lessons were to be given after working hours.

Dr Brombos, although discontinued, was indeed a very comprehensive popular joke-packed humour magazine with a wide and varied audience (ranging from top-brass authorities to the man in the street).

It was not strictly meant or solely intended to bring out a smile and a laugh but was also very informative in content on current events and issues that required attention by the authorities.

During wartime, due to scarcity of paper, the newspaper was not issued; as attacks on convoys trying to reach Malta, made it impossible to have the same paper quantity as in pre-war days and hence fell victim to the rationing of scarce commodities.


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