Reason #10,001 why Vin Scully is the greatest announcer ever, from the broadcast of last night’s game: “Yes, the Phillies have lost 10,000, but it’s not been all beer and skittles for the Dodgers either.”
When I heard this, at first I thought the esteemed voice of the Dodgers was referencing a great Simpsons quote from the episode “Bart Star”:
Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?
Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.
Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.
Scully has never been a guest voice on the Simpsons, though he’s often been imitated to uncanny effect by Harry Shearer. Realizing the likelihood of the 80-year-old voice of the Dodgers making such a reference was slim, I decided to Google the phrase. As it turns out, it predates the Simpsons by several centuries:
‘Beer and skittles’ is shorthand for a life of indulgence spent in the pub.
Skittles, also known as Ninepins, which was the pre-cursor to ten-pin bowling, has been a popular English pub game since the 17th century. The pins are set up in a square pattern and players attempt to knock them down with a ball. It is still played but not so much as previously.
The phrase was referred to in Footman’s History of the Parish Church of Chipping Lambourn (1894), which reprints a piece from 1634:
“William Gyde… for playing at skittolles on Sunday.”
Citations of beer and skittles and variants appear in literature from the 19th century. For example, Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, 1837:
“It’s a reg’lar holiday to them – all porter and skittles.”
Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, 1857:
“Life isn’t all beer and skittles.
Several other sites back up this interpretation. So in the end, two of my favorite things have given me even more reason to appreciate their depth. Scully’s added another fine archaism to his arsenal, and the genesis of a great Simpsons joke has been revealed. I’ll drink to that!