When someone says something amusing with a totally serious expression on their face this expression is described as "deadpan". We are led to believe by those who know nothing about the subject that "dead" refers to the lack of alteration in the facial muscles and "pan" refers to the face itself. This etymology is widely accepted as genuine because certain people no longer wish to recognise where the phrase actually comes from.
The phrase does indeed accurately reflect the expression on the face of Mavis Johnson throughout her trial. She showed no emotion whatever when confronted with evidence of her alleged crimes. Society has lost a great deal by forgetting why she was there and the heinous crime she was supposed to have committed which made her such a cause celebre for her brief hour of fame.
Nowadays we have the phenomenon of the outing. This no longer refers to a day trip to the seaside. It is the practice of exposing the homosexuality of someone who will not admit to it in public. By definition these are generally people in the public eye who feel their careers would be harmed if people recognised their true nature. There is not much evidence that this is so. But other homosexuals who are glad to admit their sexuality take exception to this practice and publicly expose them on television and radio and on large posters. Not all open homosexuals agree with this practice as they feel everyone has the right to keep their sexuality private. Nevertheless the militant outers continue undeterred without caring how much they damage people's lives in the name of their cause.
Before this practice developed radical feminists had long sought to deploy similar tactics to shame people into joining them. In past ages closet feminists had been outed by their neighbours and burnt as witches. Although the supposed accoutrements of witchdom were common items found in every home the difference lay in how they were used. The household cauldron became a witch's cauldron when a woman concocted some new dish of her own without being instructed to by her husband. The household broom became the witch's broomstick when she flew through the air on it instead of sweeping the floor. Therefore anyone using these items was always under a certain amount of suspicion and deviant usages were seen as forms of witchcraft. Feminists now tried to reverse this situation by demonstrating that deviant usages of contemporary household goods signified a closet feminist underneath a deferential exterior. This was to show how many women secretly acknowledged their cause. But since the days of the Suffragettes it had become more and more difficult to persuade women to come out publicly. The Suffragettes may have won their case but their antics had done more harm than good and no one wanted to be associated with another women's movement which prized direct action above civilized debate.
One of the main complaints of feminists of the late 1950s was that women were tied to the kitchen stove. Whatever ambitions they might have had would always remain unfulfilled because their job was to serve their husbands by cooking and cleaning and generally supporting them. Feminists believed women should not be obliged to undertake such duties or be brought up to think that was inevitably going to be their life. Such views had wide support in the female population but remained hidden. Most believed it was economically impossible to just abandon their traditonal roles and strike out in some new direction where women were much less likely to be found. They stayed at home and dreamed of someone else altering their situation. Until a few decided that enough was enough and took the direct action no one else would dare.
In those days the staple kitchen item was the gas stove. The pressure cooker existed but apart from that women relied upon the same sorts of pots and pans they had used for generations. They were all made of metal and worked by heating things inside them just as they do today. Of course if they went straight from cold to hot and back again the primitive metals of the time would just break. Saucepans and frying pans worked by a method first described by Leonardo da Vinci in which the flames gently stroked them and the tickling sensation thus produced created an internal scratching and rubbing which heated the metal and cooked the food. When the mysteries of this technique were explained feminists realised that it presented them with a weapon. You could remove women from the kitchen stove by destroying their pots and pans. There would be no sabotaging of power lines or other acts of public vandalism. Simply by stopping the pans from scratching themselves you would render them useless and break their power over women for ever.
Squads of feminists began breaking into cooking pan producing factories at night and coating their products with a smooth glyceroid substance which stopped them itching on contact with flames. These masked women identified each other by codenames and by quoting the password "teflon". When the factory owners realised that their pans had been coated with this new substance they pretended it was a new technique which would prevent food sticking to the pans. This was a more economic alternative than scrapping the production and starting again. People quickly accepted teflon pans but just as quickly realised that they were as good as dead as they were impervious to flames. The manufacturers then revealed the truth of how they had got that way. Several were prosecued for misrepresentation but there was little attempt to catch the women responsible for the break-in. This was not surprising. It was soon revealed that the radical feminists included the wife of Prime Minister MacMillan and the mother of his soon-to-be-successor Alec Douglas-Home. No one was prepared to bring these two ladies to trial but neither were they prepared to give publicity to their cause and destroy the family values of the time. Someone had to pay for what was going on. Mavis Johnson was simply a convenient scapegoat.
With MacMillan out of the country Scotland Yard arrested Mavis in a dawn raid. Apparently she had never heard of the radical feminists but she had been photographed in the Neasden Chronicle buying the first teflon pan. The cirtcumstantial evidence was striking. in 1961 Mavis was charged with the murder of thousands of cooking pans and of colluding with the Soviet Union to destroy civilized society. From the beginning it was clear that there would be only one verdict. While Johnson was on trial the feminists could continue killing pans and let someone who was outside their number take the blame. Anti-feminists had their scapegoat which made it unnecessary for them to investigate further and betray more influential names. Mavis began by protesting innocence but as the evidence mounted she instead chose stoic defiance. She would deny everything by staring impassively at the court around her. She was described by the Daily Mirror as looking "as dead as one of her pans" and the name stuck. By the end of the trial she had firmly nailed her colours to the radical feminist mast and became something of a martyr. Until she started cooking for all the inmates in Holloway and allowed herself to be smothered by a warder rather than reveal all to the press.
Mavis Johnson did not kill any pans. You cannot do that now anyway as their more sophisticated metal actually conducts its own heat by rubbing the flames or electric currents together itself. It was just convenient for everyone to pretend she had. Mavis left a husband and four childen who went on to be either actors or drunks. This suited the rest of the world too. If they pretended to be something they were not or put themselves beyond help they confirmed the slanders about their mother and wife even more and everyone could forget that she existed and find other ways to pursue their pet causes and other people to blame when they went wrong.
Nowadays it is assumed that women are feminists and there is no need to forcibly out them by preventing them from following other paths. Nevertheless the more radical feminists will always believe there is more to be done. The final solution would be to abolish cooking altogether. There is plenty of evidence that this is about to occur and that radicalism will have the same distressing consequences as before. Fast food chiefly cooked by men has already usurped the domestic meal cooked by a woman as the staple diet so the radicals have apparently already won their argument. Now ask yourself this. Why is fast food itself being usurped by an ever increasing quantity of sushi? Of food which is not cooked at all? Of organic food requiring no preparation? When it poisons us all there will be more Mavis Johnsons. The people who have forgotten where deadpan comes from will not prevent this happening. Maybe we should be grateful that we still live in an age when "deadpan" rather than "stopheart" is a recognised idiom in the English language.