Sunday, December 23, 2007

Crystallised Fruit

Sunday Telegraph [UK]
23 December 2007

Sandi Toksvig: peace on earth and a box of fruit

[...] There is a wonderful story, which may or may not be true, but is worth telling anyway, about a similar litany of desires. According to urban legend, during the yuletide of 1948 a Washington DC radio station asked ambassadors from a number of countries in the capital their preferred Christmas gift, and the replies were recorded for a special holiday broadcast.

The expected answers were intoned: 'Peace throughout the world,' from the French ambassador; 'Freedom for all people enslaved by Imperialism,' from the Russian; and then a call went through to Sir Oliver Franks, the representative of Her Majesty's Government.

'Well, it's very kind of you to ask,' he replied. 'I'd quite like a box of crystallised fruit.' [...]
Russ Merifield, Who Said That? Memorable Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes Selected from The Empire Club of Canada Speeches 1903 - 2003. Mary Byers, ed. Toronto: The Empire Club Foundation, 2003, p. 225.

June, 1973

William Rees-Mogg, MA, Editor, The Times of London

We had an unfortunate Ambassador [in Washington] who got things wrong with the press….He was telephoned and asked what he wanted for Christmas and innocently enough replied. He tuned into the radio the next day to hear the following statement read out: The Russian Ambassador says that for Christmas he wants peace on earth. The French Ambassador wants friendship between nations; but the British Ambassador wants a box of crystallized fruit. The British Ambassador was the only one of the three who got what he asked for.
Pass the Port: The Best After-Dinner Stories of the Famous. Cirencester, UK: Christian Brann, 1976, p. 45.

The Late Sir Michael Cary, K.C.B., Formerly Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence.

The British Ambassador was in Washington some years back. About a fortnight before Christmas he was rung up by the local T.V. Station.

"Ambassador," said the caller, "What would you like for Christmas?"

"I shouldn't dream of accepting anything."

"Seriously, we would like to know and don't be stuffy. You have after all been very kind to us during the year."

"Oh well, if you absolutely must, I would like a small box of crystallised fruits."

He thought no more about it until Christmas Eve when he switched on the T.V.

"We have had a little Christmas survey all of our own," said the announcer. "We asked three visiting Ambassadors what they would like for Christmas.

"The French Ambassador said: 'Peace on earth, a great interest in human literature and understanding, and an end to war and strife.'

"Then we asked the German Ambassador and he said: 'A great upsurge in international trade, ensuring growth and prosperity, particularly in the underdeveloped countries. That is what I wish for Christmas.'

"And then we asked the British Ambassador and he said he would like a small box of crystallised fruits."
Nigel Rees, The Guinness Book of Humorous Anecdotes. Enfield, UK: Guinness Publishing, 1994, p. 73.

A former British ambassador to France was asked by Paris Match what he would like for Christmas if he could have absolutely anything he wanted. The ambassador at first demurred and said no, no, he couldn't possibly, but eventually made his choice. The next issue of Paris Match duly carried its feature 'What the world would like for Christmas' in which Mikhail Gorbachev said he wanted an end to the arms race, Ronald Reagan opted for peace on earth, and so on. Finally there was the British ambassador: 'A small box of crystallized fruits, please.'

This joke made an appearance late in its life in Lynn Barber's column in The Independent on Sunday on 29 December 1991. I was well familiar with it, as Jonathan James-Moore, later to become the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment (Radio), used it invariably as his warm-up joke in the early 1980s. The earliest version of it I have found occurs in Pass the Port (1976), but it also appears in Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Diplomats (1977) where it is told as the result of a Washington radio station telephoning various ambassadors in December 1948. In this version, the British ambassador, Sir Oliver Franks, was the one who said, 'I'd quite like a box of crystallized fruits.'
[An overlong version of this anecdote, involving a Canadian ambassador, appears in John Robert Colombo, The Penguin Book of Canadian Jokes (Toronto: Penguin Books, 2001), pp. 475-7.]