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Holland Park Press

Engelbert Humperdinck

23 March 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

I know two people whose first name is Engelbert – well, one I really know and the other I know from TV. One is a former colleague from my time in the army, and although he is nearly seven feet tall, his name is not so heroic.

Not even when coupled with a warlike surname. General Engelbert Patton would have run out of petrol much sooner. The Engelbert I know personally is a ‘horse whisperer at the NATO Joint Warfare Centre, Norway’. I’m not making this up; he’s on LinkedIn.

Engelbert is more suitable for a singer: to be precise, Engelbert Humperdinck, born 1936, but not for a secret agent: ‘Humperdinck... Engelbert Humperdinck’.

I haven’t got a very slick name either: Arnold Jansen op de Haar. It’s rather remarkable that the English handle it better than the Dutch – they even use the correct pronunciation – whereas the Dutch find a long surname pretentious: Jansen is like Jones in Wales.

In my home town, Arnhem, alone (population 149,266) there are no fewer than 1453 people called Jansen, and they always seem to look annoyed when I introduce myself. I often add: ‘Jansen op de Haar, since 1826’.

I’m now considering adding my middle names to my book covers: Arnold Marius Coenraad Dominicus Jansen op de Haar. This won’t make me popular among non-Catholics, but sales will soar in Italy and Poland.

My nickname at home is Toy, but this doesn’t really work in the English-speaking world: Toy Jansen op de Haar. Tom Jones isn’t called Toy Jones either.

To make matters worse, I have, as you say in English, a double-barrelled surname. You will ask yourself: but doesn’t it consist of four words? Well, ignore the preposition and the article and ‘haar’ is used in the eastern Netherlands to denote a natural elevation in the landscape used to build a farmhouse; best to keep it modest.

Engelbert Humperdinck will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest in May. His real name is Arnold(!) George Dorsey, but in 1965 he changed it to Engelbert Humperdinck, which he considered more attractive.

And he achieved fame. The family of the actual Engelbert Humperdinck (1854–1921), the German composer of the famous opera Hänsel und Gretel, were much less pleased; it ruined their reputation.

Well, if only Italy would enter Giuseppe Verdi in the Song Contest, with some instrument – a guitar, perhaps. Or else Norway could send Edvard Grieg with an accordion.

I’m a great fan of English pop music. Sometimes you think: poor Iceland with Björk, or pity Spain with Julio Iglesias, whereas within living memory England has produced better music than anywhere else in the world, from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Adele. Engelbert Humperdinck somehow managed to squeeze in; the same is true of Sir Cliff Richard, but I have a soft spot for him.

Check out Blue Christmas by Engelbert Humperdinck on YouTube. Until this number, Christmas was white; it’s bad enough hearing Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, but Engelbert managed to paint it completely blue.

Yet at one point Humperdinck had a lot of fans: he was an upmarket version of Tom Jones. The young Princess Anne is rumoured to have been a fan, or one of the ‘Humperdinckers’. I must be clear by now that I’m not a Humperdincker.

The Netherlands is entering a female Red Indian, and I’m afraid this Red Indian will go far.

I’ve listened to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Eurovision song, and it didn’t sound too bad, even though Engelbert nowadays sports a dyed Donald Trump hairdo. It may well be the best song of his entire career, so will Engelbert beat the Dutch Red Indian after all?

In the meantime, England and Europe will never see eye to eye again. The Eurovision Song Contest is a metaphor for the relationship between the UK and Europe; if it weren’t, they would have sent Birdy. She will be just about old enough to take part in the final. Oh, and before I forget, Montenegro is represented by Rambo Amadeus. Rambo Amadeus!

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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