Died: Drs. P.Article by Staff
On June 16 a remarkable death notice appeared in Dutch newspapers NRC Handelsblad and De Volkskrant. It was a handwritten two stanza, eight line poem, adhering to the strict form and meter of the Ollebolleke (a Dutch adaptation of the Double Dactyl or Higgledy Piggledy – a form of light verse invented in 1951 by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal). This is a loose translation of the announcement:
Pray please your attention!
Yours truly’s persona is
Henceforth concealed –
Which is (except for the
-Greeting all heartily-
It was signed simply: Drs. P.
Mysterious? No. Not for the Dutch readers of the quality newspapers in which the notice appeared. Drs. P., (Drs. is a Dutch academic title which like Dr. comes before the name of the bearer, it is gradually being phased out in favor of Master behind the name to align with the custom in English speaking countries) was the pseudonym for Heinz Hermann Polzer. He was one of the most creative manipulators of the Dutch language in song and (light) verse. It was Drs. P. who adapted the Ollebolleke form from its English original and introduced it to the Dutch in 1974. It became a highly popular structure with Drs. P. as one of the masters of the genre. His self-referential final Ollekebolleke also aligned nicely with his penchant for slightly macabre subject matter.
He first came to national attention when in 1964 he sang Trapportaal (Stairway vestibule), which he had written seven years earlier, on national television, accompanying himself on the piano. He struck a strange figure on the stage. He was 45 years old, wore a grey suit, white shirt and tie and dark-rimmed glasses. He looked like a nerdy, yet mischievous overage student. His performance was unpolished and his voice, creaky and slightly off-key. He was the epitome of the gentleman amateur, an image which fit him perfectly. He once claimed that he had worn a grey suit and tie since his toddler years and judging from his deportment one hardly doubts that claim.
Drs. P. was born in Switzerland in 1919, the son of Dutch mother and an Austrian father. When he was three his parents divorced and his mother moved back to The Netherlands, where he grew up. He never relinquished his Swiss Citizenship, which stood him in good stead during the wartime occupation of The Netherlands, when, as an economics student in Rotterdam, he was twice incarcerated for producing anti-Nazi propaganda. The Swiss bailed him out and he returned to his native country to perform his national service duty as a Swiss citizen.
After the war he got a job with an ad agency in Indonesia, where he could exercise his elastic linguistic skills. A colleague at the agency, Willem Duys, moved on to television where he presented a popular talkshow. It was in this show that Drs. P. performed trapportaal, a song about a renter who leaves a succession of murdered women in the vestibule and the discussion between the landlord and his family about whether they should talk to him about it, or whether it is none of their business.
His career took off and he scored a number of hits in the 1960s and 1970s.
His greatest achievements, however, were as a versificator. As with his style of clothing and his highly articulated, almost archaically formal enunciation of the Dutch language – he once said that the language had reached its most exulted form in the late 19th century and that it had gone downhill since – he was vehemently in favor of the tradition rhyme and rhythm in verse and poetry. He once said: “I have really always avoided poetry. And particularly the generation of fifty (a Dutch experimental movement of poets who resisted all restrictions of form and tradition ed.), the generation of Lucebert and Campert. They were such revolutionaries, I had an intense suspicion of them.” Drs. P. wrote several handbooks in which he demonstrated how to write traditional verse, with the rhyme and meter that were anathema to his anti-establishment contemporaries. There was no-one as adept at doing just that. His choice of words, often coined by him and his playfulness with the language are legendary.
Drs. P. did not have children and has said that he would not mind if others did not too, an attitude which may subconsciously have inspired his most famous song, Dodenrit (Death ride). In it he tells the story of a father of a family of six who are trying to get to Omsk in Russia in mid-winter. They are chased by a pack of hungry wolves and to survive he has to give up his family members one by one to the wolves. Just as Omsk is in sight he trips and is devoured by the hungry wolves himself.
Drs. P. continued to perform until 1998. On June 13, forty-one years after his Russian alter-ego, Drs. P. died. He was 95 years old.
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