What is it with Brits and dead birds?
Did it all start with “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and the “Pet Shop Sketch” of 1969? (The shorter version above is from the 1971 movie compilation.) It’s hilarious, and we’re fond of quoting it, but is there something culturally deeper about birds that have ceased to be?
I ask because over the weekend we were watching the premiere of the second season of “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS “Masterpiece.” In it, Tristan deals surreptitiously with the awkward demise of a lonely blind woman’s budgie by replacing it with a bird of a different color.
The next night, we were watching Season 1, Episode 6, of “The Vicar of Dibley,” a 1994 British sitcom about an eccentric new female priest in a conservative British country village. In it, simple-minded parishioner Alice remembers the parakeet she had as a child, and how it kept coming back to life a few days after passing, sort of like an avian Easter.
And the next night, by pure chance, we tuned in to “Victoria,” also on PBS Masterpiece. It was Episode 5 of Season 2, “Entente Cordiale.” In it, Victoria visits the French king and attempts to discuss international relations with him over dinner. He, in turn, changes the subject to the dish being served. “The ortolan is a great delicacy,” he says. “The birds are trapped and then drowned in armagnac.”
When Victoria expresses surprise, he continues: “I have been close to death on several occasions, and I assure you I would not mind drowning in very old armagnac.” He urges her to try one, which she does, as a napkin is raised in front of her to “hide you from the eyes of God.”
That’s probably just as well, in case that whole bring-the-bunting-back-to-life schtick goes a little too far.