Posts Tagged ‘Bloomsbury group’

Bunga Bunga Berlusconi only following a cross-dressing Virginia Woolf!

February 16, 2011

The BBC tells us that one of the earliest recorded use of “bunga bunga” was the Dreadnaught hoax in 1910.

The "fake" Abyssinian royals

Virginia Woolf (far left) joins Horace de Vere Cole (far right) in the 'bunga' hoax: image bbc

The infamous Dreadnought hoax was dreamed up by aristocratic joker Horace de Vere Cole, who contacted the British Admiralty pretending to be the Emperor of Abyssinia. He informed officials that he wished to inspect the Home Fleet while on a forthcoming visit to Britain.

After enlisting some friends – artists from the Bloomsbury group, including writer Virginia Woolf – to masquerade as his entourage, he turned up at the navy’s state-of-the-art ship, the Dreadnought.

Officials, taken in by the dark stage make-up, false beards and oriental regalia, treated the group to an official civic reception.

They were reported to have cried “Bunga, bunga!” while marvelling at the ship. An account of the visit plus a picture were sent to the Daily Mail newspaper – probably by Cole himself.

Virginia Woolf said later that when the real Emperor of Abyssinia arrived in London weeks later, wherever he went, ”the street boys ran after him calling out bunga, bunga!”┬áThe term reappeared at the end of World War I, after HMS Dreadnought sank a German submarine. According to retired Royal Navy captain Jack Broome – in his book Make Another Signal – the congratulatory telegram read: “BUNGA BUNGA”.

Musical Hall ditty from 1910

When I went on board a Dreadnought ship

I looked like a costermonger;

They said I was an Abyssinian prince

‘Cos I shouted ‘Bunga Bunga!’

Source: The Sultan of Zanzibar: The Bizarre World and Spectacular Hoaxes of Horace de Vere Cole, Martyn Downer

The phrase “bunga bunga” has become inextricably linked with the private peccadilloes of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi but he can claim to be in the “good” company of a cross-dressing Virginia Woolf !


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