Paul Dehn

Paul Dehn (1912-1979) was known as one of Britain’s most notable film critics and also a world-famous screenwriter, librettist, and wit. His best-known screenplays include Seven Days To Noon, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and Murder On The Orient Express.

But he also is famous as the creator of MRS RAVOON. Some sources now claim that her exploits come from an old English ballad, and in fact some singers have taken on the dangerous burden of singing about the lady. But in truth, the ballad was imagined by Dehn. This makes MRS R’s possibilities even more pregnant with panic. So does Dehn’s spelling of her name always in CAPITAL LETTERS.

Here is Madame’s first appearance in the 1956 FOR LOVE AND MONEY, in the “Danses Macabres” section. Enjoy…

Alternative Endings to an Unwritten Ballad
I stole through the dungeons, while everyone slept,
Till I came to the cage where the Monster was kept.
There, locked in the arms of a Giant Baboon
Rigid and smiling, lay … MRS RAVOON!
I climbed the clock-tower in the first morning sun
And ’twas midday at least ere my journey was done;
But the clock never sounded the last stroke of noon,
For there, from the clapper, swung MRS RAVOON.
I hauled in the line, and I took my first look
At the half-eaten horror that hung from the hook.
I had dragged from the depths of the limpid lagoon
The luminous body of MRS RAVOON.
I fled in the storm, thorough lightning and thunder,
And there, as a flash split the darkness asunder,
Chewing a rat’s-tail and mumbling a rune,
Mad in the moat squatted MRS RAVOON.
I stood by the waters so green and so thick,
And I stirred at the scum with my old, withered stick;
When there rose through the ooze, like a monstrous balloon,
The bloated cadaver of MRS RAVOON.
Facing the fens, I looked back from the shore
Where all had been empty a moment before;
And there, by the light of the Lincolnshire moon,
Immense on the marshes, stood … MRS RAVOON!
My Own Contribution to the Genre
Then a cry from the coach-house, a groan from the groom,
Told the butler was dead, Mrs. Cook full of gloom.
Then entered wise Sherlock – “Ha, death by lardoon!
“Elementary, Watson. ‘Twas MRS RAVOON.”
Here is another little poisoned sweetmeat
from the same volume and section.
A Game of Consequences
Coffee-cups cool on the Vicar’s harmonium,
Clever guests giggle and duffers despond.
Softly, like the patter of mouse-feet, the whisper
Of Eversharp Pencil on Basildon Bond.
Separate hands scribble separate phrases –
Innocent, each, as the new-driven snow.
What will they spell, when the paper’s unfolded?
Lucifer, only, and Belial know.
‘Ready, Miss Montague? Come, Mr Jellaby!’
(Peek at your papers and finger your chins)
‘Shy, Mr Pomfret? You’d rather the Vicar …
Oh, good for the Vicar!’ The Vicar begins:
He said to her: “WILL YOU DO WHAT I WANT YOU TO?
She said to him: “THERE’S A SONG IN MY HEART”.
What was the Consequence? What did the World say?
Hist, in the silence, to Damocles’ sword!
Today Mr Pomfret has left for Karachi
And little Miss Montague screams in her ward.
If you have news of MRS RAVOON — or how poor Miss Montague’s electroconvulsive therapy is going — or wish to write your own ending to Dehn’s ballad, click here.