Category Archives: Comedy

My London Library: No 1 – Private Eye On London

I own a lot of books about London, so I thought I’d share them with you in no particular order.

  • Title Private Eye On London by Christopher Booker, Willie Rushton and Richard Ingrams (1962, Weidenfeld and Nicolson).
  • Cost £4.
  • Bought from The Cartoon Museum, Bloomsbury.
  • Genre Humour.

One of – if not the – first special annual produced by the Private Eye team followed the adventures of Gnittie, a ‘little man’ with a ‘vague longing to be rich and famous’, who heads to London to fulfill his dreams.

There he discovers that ‘nobody who is rich and powerful and famous lives South of Old Father Thames’, visits Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, discovers the prisons are full of ‘parking offenders and demonstrators’ and tries unsuccessfully to take a No 11 bus to Fleet Street.

Best bit The Estate Agent.

Verdict Even in London, most things never change.

BBC memo: Fawlty Towers ‘dire’ and a ‘disaster’

Some time in the past few years, a copy of this memo came into my possession via the ex TV editor of Time Out, Alkarim Jivani (whose entry in the Urban Dictionary has to be the nicest ever).

It’s from the Comedy Script Editor of the BBC in 1974, who dismisses ‘Fawlty Towers’ as ‘dire’ and ‘a collection of cliches and stock characters’.

Sadly, the coffee stain is not contemporary, dating only from circa 2008.

John Cleese discusses the memo here. He has framed his copy, but I just gave mine to my mate Gabriel. Oh well.

Nostalgia: Bill Hicks, the NME and me

‘Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.’ Don Draper, ‘Mad Men’

You can experience nostalgia in the most unlikely places. Yesterday it was when Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love’ came on the radio, a song my circle of friends listened to incessantly when we were 18 but I’ve hardly heard since. Like ‘Debris’ by the Faces, it’s a song can instantly take me back in time and space, 16 years and to the kitchen of my best friend Scott, when we all had curtain haircuts, smoked like chimneys and were terrifyingly sincere about everything all the time.

A couple of months ago the potent twinge in my heart came when I went to a screening of the new Bill Hicks documentary ‘American’.

When you go and see a film about Bill Hicks you probably expect to come out laughing or enraged or saddened, but I emerged wistful, contemplative and swamped by memories.

I hadn’t thought about Hicks a great deal since 1992, but suddenly it all came flooding back. Staying in to watch Hicks on ‘Clive Anderson Talks Back’ or being interviewed at the Montreal Comedy Festival as C4 surfed the wave of having the hippest comedy content on the block. Reading about Hicks in the NME on the bus to school, enthralled by this astonishing man who called himself a comedian but was sandwiched between features on the Lemonheads, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney and never looked out of place. You couldn’t do that with Jasper Carrot.

C4 comedy and the NME were the two key cultural influences for me at the time, so it’s little surprise that Hicks and his performances should have seemed so important, and also that they should be so easily forgotten, as what we most value in late adolescence is often the first thing that gets abandoned on the roadside during the long march to maturity.

I wrote an article exploring some of this in the context of British love for Hicks in the Independent on Sunday, but can’t help wondering the extent to which I am projecting my own memories of Hicks onto a wider canvas. 

Are these memories entirely personal and therefore largely irrelevent, or are there other people my age who place Hicks in the same C4/NME  bracket? In a sense, I don’t really want to know, because this is my nostalgia, not yours, but at the same, like everybody else, Hicks included (and why else did he love the UK so much?), I desire vindication, some confirmation that my nostalgia isn’t just a ‘twinge’, but something that has real cultural value beyond that. So come on people, vindicate me.