Book review: Delicacy: A memoir about cake and death

Let’s get one thing clear from the start: Katy Wix’s book is not actually very funny.

This is not because Katy Wix herself isn’t funny: she definitely is. On TV series like Not Going Out, The Windsors, Ghosts and as a contestant on Taskmaster, she has consistently demonstrated herself to be incredibly talented, likeable (even when playing unlikeable characters (such as the snooty Carole in Miranda or bossy estate agent Carole in Stath Lets Fllats) and amusing. In truth, she is probably one of the finest comedy actresses working in Britain today.

But this memoir – which links a number of key events in Wix’s life to various cakes – is not only not especially funny but is generally not only not very funny but not even for the most part, really aspiring to be so. The book deals with serious issues: Wix’s own struggles with her weight, her deeply unpleasant grandfather, the death of a friend, a serious car accident Wix was involved in and her mother’s struggle with cancer. The book’s cover comes emblazoned with a quote from Simon Amstell (another very talented figure) describing the book as “painful, raw and incredibly funny.” Painfully raw? Yes. But to describe this as “incredibly funny” honestly does Delicacy a disservice. It is possible to make a troubled memoir very funny indeed as demonstrated by Georgia Pritchett’s forthcoming, My Mess Is A Bit Of A Life. But this isn’t that book.

This is not to detract from the honesty of Wix’s writing or to diminish the genuine heartache she has clearly experienced. But if you want a funny book, look elsewhere.

Photo by Idil Sukan

Book review: Delicacy A Memoir About Cake and Death, by Katy Wix. Published by: Headline.

Book review: The Magic of Terry Pratchett

A former local journalist who later moved into public relations, Terry Pratchett grew from being a cult comic fantasy author in the 1980s to becoming the bestselling author in the UK of all in the 1990s. Biographer Marc Burrows does an excellent job detailing the prolific Discworld and Good Omens author’s busy life and extensive back catalogue – no mean feat as the Discworld series alone comprises 41 novels – successfully emulating Pratchett’s own literary style as he does so, with numerous witty footnotes throughout. Burrows also details the progress of the Alzheimer’s disease which sadly blighted Pratchett’s final years leading to his death in 2015, aged 66.

I spotted only one mistake: Pratchett never reported on the assassination of Egyptian President Nasser as this event never happened. Perhaps the author meant Sadat? At any rate, this should not detract from Burrows’ achievement. Apparently, Pratchett’s official biography has not been written yet. Whoever writes it will have their work cut out surpassing this.

Book review: The Magic of Terry Pratchett, by Marc Burrows. Published by Pen and Sword. White Owl (2020)

TV review: Dead Pixels, Series 1-2

Meet Meg and Nicky. Both are young, in their twenties and are friends. Both were effectively in Lockdown long before it was fashionable.

For Meg and Nicky are gamers, hopelessly addicted to the huge online role-playing computer game, Kingdom Scrolls in Jon Brown’s winning E4 sitcom. Kingdom Scrolls is not actually a real game, but you would be forgiven for thinking it was from watching this. The fantasy world in which Meg and Nicky are drawn into is fully realised on screen in graphic detail. Although we see Meg and Nicky in the real world a lot: almost invariably in their flat or at work, often speaking to each other via portable headsets, we often see them as the fantasy warrior avatars they play as in the game fighting battles, hunting for treasure and generally living their lives vicariously through their characters in the game.

This isn’t the first sitcom to feature gamers as leading characters: remember Spaced, The IT Crowd and Big Bang Theory. But none have portrayed their high-tech fantasy worlds in as much vividly realised, carefully crafted visual detail as Dead Pixels does.

Needless to say, neither Meg (Alexa Davies) or Nicky (Will Merrick) are normal, well-rounded people. They never date, eat out, go to the cinema, go on holiday, read books, go clubbing or do any of the normal things pre-Lockdown twentysomethings did. Instead, they devote every spare minute of their free time to Kingdom Scrolls. They neglect their diet and are uninterested in their work. Meg, in fact, genuinely seems to be very good at her job and keeps getting promoted. This only annoys her as it leaves her with more responsibilities and less time to play Kingdom Scrolls.

They are endlessly scornful about the activities of their friend, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie). Although only slightly older than Meg and Nicky. she is a non-gamer who lives something close to what most of us would consider to be a normal life. She is baffled and slightly troubled by Meg and Nicky’s obsession and does what she can to gently draw them out of it. She achieves little success in this, however. Meg and Nicky continue to treat such developments as the release of a new expansion pack or the casting of the long-awaited Kingdom Scrolls film as if they are matters of life and death. We soon learn Alison is not above making bad life decisions herself too.

Incidentally, there is a neat twist revealed quite late in the very first episode. I have avoided mentioning it here.

There are other characters too. Usman (Sargon Yelda) is a slightly older US airline pilot whose obsession with Kingdom Scrolls clearly comes at the expense of family life. He never meets any of the other characters in person during the programme although he speaks to them often.

Russell (David Mumeni) is a Kingdom Scrolls newbie, who Meg as met at work. Russell is embarrassingly unworldly in both the game and real-life and is still amused by such japes as sheathing and unsheathing his character’s sword repeatedly to make it look as if his avatar is masturbating. The other more seasoned gamers have long since ceased to be amused by such antics. There is an ongoing story about Meg fancying Russell at first, finding him very physically attractive despite disliking his personality. Nothing is really made of this after the first series, however. Other supporting characters also crop up in the second series played by Al Roberts (Stath Lets Flats) and New Zealand comic and actress, Rose Matafeo (Taskmaster, Baby Done).

The first series of Dead Pixels was released in 2019 and the newly released second series which is now showing is just as good as the first. Genuinely funny, very watchable and boosted by impressive visuals and strong comic performances from Davies, Mellor and Ritchie especially, Dead Pixels is guaranteed to keep you glued to the screen.

Series 2 of Dead Pixels is currently being screened on Tuesdays at 10pm on E4. Both series are available to watch in full on All4.

Book review: No Shame, by Tom Allen

Tom Allen is well-established as one of Britain’s best-known comedians. Incredibly camp and always impeccably dressed in a tweed suit, Allen’s quick wit and sharp tongue has made him the ideal choice to front high end reality TV spin-off shows like The Apprentice…You’re Fired! and The Great British Bake Off: Extra Slice. He also presents the popular Like Minded Friends podcast with his friend, comedian, Suzi Ruffell and can often be seen on panel shows like Mock the Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and QI.

As this winning memoir confirms, Allen’s camp TV persona is no act. He was an unusual child and in his own words was “always forty-six years old.” He, in fact, won’t turn forty-six until 2029 (he was born in 1983), but with his unusual, distinctive dress sense, interests and manner made him stand out. Unlike most 1990s teenagers (indeed, unlike most teenagers from any decade), he avoided the traditional adolescent activities preferring to organise dinner parties for middle-aged women while pretending to be a butler.

Even his accent is a mystery. Although not exactly Received Pronunciation, it is definitely plummy. But it seems to have come from nowhere. He apparently sounds nothing like anyone in his family and went to school with fellow comedian Rob Beckett and former EastEnders actor, Charlie Clements, neither of whom sound anything like him either. “If the Daily Mail built a theme park, it would probably look a bit like Bromley,” he says of his birthplace, although as of the current Lockdown, he still lives there with his ageing parents.

(A surprising number of famous people, in fact, come from or have lived in Bromley including H.G. Wells, Enid Blyton, David Bowie, Jack Dee and Pixie Lott. But that’s another story).

“When I was sixteen,” he recalls. “I dressed in Victorian clothing in a bid to distract from the fact that I was gay.” Twenty years on, he recognises this strategy was “flawed” and indeed, had less to do with trying to do with attempting to distract attention away from his (presumably very obvious) homosexuality than it did attempting to escape from the difficult realities of his daily situation altogether.

This is a very funny book, shedding light on what, in reality, clearly must have been a very unhappy period for Allen. For all his occasional on stage bitchiness, he is clearly a very sensitive person as well as a good writer. Though the book takes us up to the present, there is relatively little about his comedy career. The best bits of the book chronicle his awkward teenaged experience in exquisite detail.

By coincidence, Tom Allen’s memoir comes hot on the heels of To Be A Gay Man, by the musician, Will Young, who is around four years older than Allen. As with that volume, Allen’s enjoyable book should provide an invaluable source of inspiration to any young gay readers, hopefully ensuring that feel able to advance to a position where they feel “no shame” themselves.

No Shame, by Tom Allen. Published by Hodder and Stoughton.

Book review: The Problem With Men, by Richard Herring

Some years ago, the comedian Richard Herring noticed something funny happening on Twitter.

Many unusual things happen on Twitter, of course, but Herring noticed this particular trend always occurred on March 8th, the date officially designated as International Women’s Day.

“When is international men’s day?” one tweet would typically begin. “Or am I once again being positively discriminated against?”

Other such tweets would be more argumentative in tone. “Imagine the uproar if there was an international man’s day…” Or “Is there an international man’s day? #askingforafriemd” or even “When’s international men’s day then? Of course there isn’t one. So much for equality!!”

Lots of these tweets appear every year. The vast majority are posted by men. All have been prompted by news of International Woman’s Day. Perhaps they make a reasonable point?

Well, in fact, no. In fact, they do not.

Because firstly, as Richard Herring points out, all of them have been tweeted simply in an attempt to spoil International Women’s Day. This is a silly and childish response, the equivalent of a child having a tantrum at another child’s birthday party, which they have been invited to, simply because it is not their own.

Second, almost everyone tweeting may be safely presumed to have some sexist intent (e.g. to rile women or feminists).

And thirdly…there is an International Men’s Day already! There has been for years, a fact any one of the multitude of idiots sending out the army of tweets on the matter, could have found out simply by Googling it within seconds. It is on November 19th.

Richard Herring is one of Britain’s most likeable and intelligent comedians and often likes to set himself these little challenges. Years ago, he set himself the task of replying to every single tweet asking the inane question always with a witty response informing them that the big day is on November 19th.

Two years ago, he started doing this for charity. If I may quote Wikipedia:

“On 8 March 2018, in aid of International Women’s Day, Herring raised over £150,000 for domestic abuse charity Refuge by responding to anyone on Twitter who asked when International Men’s Day was (it is 19 November).He did the same on 8 March 2019, raising almost £130,000. He repeated the exercise for the final time on 8 March 2020 and streamed himself responding to tweets live on Twitch. He raised a further £70,000.”

Three cheers for him!

In fact, four cheers as this short book detailing his experiences is a treat. Extending into such topics as why many men confidently believe they could score a point against Serena Williams on a tennis court (they couldn’t), why female leaders have a better record on dealing with COVID-19 than male ones do and whether a man can ever be considered a feminist, this is thought-provoking, intelligent and lots of fun.

The Problem with Men: When is it International Men’s Day? (and why it matters), by Richard Herring. Published by Sphere, November 5th 2020.

Richard Herring is politely trolling people on Twitter on International Women's Day.

Book review: Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood

It was perhaps her finest moment.

The song (apparently fiendishly difficult to perform) takes the form of a conversation between a husband, Barry and his wife Freda as she, following a broadcast of Gardeners’ Question Time, cautiously at first but with steadily increasing passion and verve attempts to initiate sex. Ignoring Barry’s pleas to abstain, (“I’m imploring: I’m boring, Let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring,”) the song builds to an impressive crescendo with Freda ultimately suggesting he “hit me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly.” “The Ballad of Barry and Freda” often referred to simply as “Let’s Do It” is undoubtedly Victoria Wood’s most famous and popular song. It also provides the name of this thoroughly researched and well-written, authorised biography which arrives four-and-a half year’s after the much-loved comedian, actress, writer and musician’s premature death in 2016.

Victoria Wood’s career was not short on magic moments. Many came during her memorable ITV performance, An Audience With Victoria Wood in 1988, with which that song is often strongly associated. Many others come courtesy of her series, Victoria Wood As Seen On TV (which introduced the world to the deliberately amateurish delights of soap opera parody, Acorn Antiques) while later high points included Pat and Margaret, the sitcom Dinnerladies, Housewife, 49 and That Day We Sang.

Many of her finest moments, in fact, came from other performers such as Julie Walters, Celia Imrie and Patricia Routledge, the hardworking Wood almost invariably providing the scripts.

This comprehensive biography provides Wood with a well-deserved celebration of her hugely accomplished life while not glossing over her unhappy childhood, difficult rise to the top, her sometimes infuriating perfectionism, her marriage break-up as well as her heartbreaking final illness.

Let’s Do It: The Authorised Biography of Victoria Wood, by Jasper Rees. Published by: Trapeze.

Book review: More Than Likely: A memoir

TV comedy writers vary in their habits. Some work best writing in groups (as with many US shows, ensembles like The Fast Show and Monty Python). Others seem to work best alone (the late John ‘Only Fools…’ Sullivan, Simon ‘Men Behaving Badly’ Nye, Roy ‘Summer Wine’ Clarke). Others work best in twos, bouncing ideas off each other and finding comfort in their shared humour.

Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais are definitely in this final category and since the mid-1960s have achieved a record of success which has established them as legends in their field.

In the 1960s, they achieved their first major sitcom triumph with The Likely Lads. In addition to the writing itself, they also deserve unexpected credit for selecting James Bolam and Rodney Bewes for the key roles, Dick poring through Spotlight and eliminating anyone who looked like they could only be “serious, romantic or menacing” and being attracted by the fact both had been in films (Bewers had been Billy Liar, Bolam was in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner). Controversy has long reigned in comedy circles over the Rodney Bewes and James Bolam’s real-life relationship with recent revelations suggesting the late Bewes may have been very difficult to work with. But they were undoubtedly the perfect choice for the time.

In the 1970s, Clement and La Frenais struck gold again, producing a full-colour follow-up, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? With the writing now focusing on how the two previously fairly interchangeable young friends were. by their thirties. gradually drifting apart – Bewes’ Bob marrying the woman Clive James described as “the dreaded Thelma” (the excellent Brigit Forsyth) and growing into a potential Thatcherite of the future while Bolam’s Terry remained much the same, even still living with his elderly mum, Clement and La Frenais produced a sequel which, for once, surpassed the original.

The hits kept on coming. The prison-based black comedy Porridge starring Ronnie Barker may actually be their greatest work of all while in the 1980s they scored major hits with Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Lovejoy. The last of these isn’t mentioned much at all here surprisingly, although its star, Ian McShane, who they also worked with on the 1971 crime thriller, Villain, is mentioned quite a bit.

In the meantime, of course, they’ve had their fair share of failures, unrealised projects, creative successes which received insufficient attention (their excellent 1998 rock reunion comedy film, Still Crazy and the mostly unseen Beatles-music inspired film musical, Across The Universe spring to mind) and disasters.

They have written more than you think.

They’ve also travelled around the world a lot and met many interesting and often famous people. Which is what this book is mainly about. It is not a straight cradle to grave biography, so much as a selection of anecdotes about the many famous people they’ve met on their travels e.g. Tracey Ullman, Marlon Brando, Anne Bancroft and George Best. If that isn’t your sort of book, then I’d probably give this a miss. But they have met lots of genuinely interesting characters over the years and they are good anecdotes. Clement and La Frenais are clearly good natured coves and are very rarely spiteful about anyone. They even seem to have found the famously volatile Peter Sellers okay to work with although Michael Winner does come across as having been a bit of a knobhead.

Each chapter is written either by Dick or Ian, with the other man occasionally inserting his own thoughts at the end. It’s a format which works well. Surprisingly, bearing in mind their long successful history together the very occasional chapters which they both collaborated on here actually work less well. This includes a slightly tedious opening chapter in which they construct self-indulgent fictional scenarios about how they first met, before revealing the commonplace but perfectly agreeable real one (they were introduced to each other by a mutual friend in a pub in Notting Hill).

Now both well into their eighties, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais often sound as if they consider themselves at the mid-point of their careers and are fully expecting to be writing together for decades to come. It is a good attitude from two inspiring likely lads who have done much to enrich our lives during the last fifty-five years.

More Than Likely: A Memoir. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Published by: W&N. Paperback published: September 15th 2020.

Audiobook review: Ramble Book: Musings on Childhood, Friendship, Family and 80s Pop Culture

Do you know Adam Buxton? If you don’t, you should.

Long time ‘Buckles’ fans such as myself will have first encountered him on the hugely inventive late night 1990s Channel 4 programme, The Adam and Joe Show, which he hosted with his old schoolfriend, the equally hilarious Joe Cornish, now a film director. In the 2000s, the duo retained their cult status with an excellent radio show on what was then BBC 6 Music while Adam made occasional appearances in films like Stardust and Hot Fuzz. In the second of these, he plays an amateurish West Country reporter who suffers a comically horrific Omen-style death outside a cathedral. In recent years, he has become known for his celebrated podcasts which he records, often in the company of his dog, Rosie, from his home in Norfolk. He has also done many more things in the first fifty years of his life, than my brief summary here suggests. Many of these are mentioned this book.

Due to the current global state of unpleasantness, the release of the actual book has been delayed until September. This is no great tragedy for anyone with the inclination and capacity to listen to this audio version of his autobiography, however, as it’s available now. The book reads very much like an extended version of one of Buxton’s podcasts and which, like that, is nicely broken up by amusing ingenious musical jingles and occasional comments on the text from the reader (who is, of course, Buxton himself).

Fans of The Adam and Joe Show will remember the BaaadDad sequences in which Adam’s father, would make a guest appearance to provide a unique upper middle-class seventy-something’s perspective on the popular music of the day. Typically expressing presumably perfectly genuine outrage at the likes of Firestarter by The Prodigy or Born Slippy by Underworld, these reviews were one of the most popular bits of the show.

In reality, Nigel Buxton, who died in 2015, aged 91, though certainly not an out and out ‘bad dad’ himself, nevertheless seems to have often been a difficult person. His presence looms large in the book. Despite the moderate degree of celebrity he achieved through his son’s show late in life, Buxton the Elder, a onetime writer for the Telegraph seems to have regarded Adam’s obsession with popular culture and pursuit of a comedy career with a degree of disdain, often bordering on contempt. A particular peculiarity of the older Buxton’s personality was his absolute obsession with keeping Adam in private education, very nearly bankrupting himself in the process. At one point, he was reduced to asking for a substantial loan from his friend, John Le Carré to pay for it (the famous author was not forthcoming). Adam – who initially suffered terrible homesickness after being sent away from home to boarding school at the age of nine – had no idea about the financial crisis his father had needlessly created for himself, until many years later.

If Nigel Buxton’s aim was to instil in his son the same sometimes dubious values which he possessed himself, he failed. Adam Buxton is never less than respectful to the memory of his father, throughout this memoir. But his obsession with the trivia and minutiae of popular culture, liberal outlook and a sense of humour, have ensured that he is about as different a man from his father as it’s possible to be.

A sad development since the book was completed has been the death of Adam’s mother which he has spoken movingly about on his podcast.

Perhaps we should be grateful to Adam’s father for his public school obsession. For it was at school that Adam formed his career-defining friendship with Joe Cornish (as well as Louis Theroux).

This is ultimately an often very funny and enjoyable account of Buxton’s formative years with particular focus on the 1980s: the decade which saw him move from childhood to adulthood.

Anyone who remembers the 1970s and 1980s will find much of resonance here: Adam’s discovery of Kraftwerk through surreptitious late night listening to Radio Caroline while at school, details of an explosive adolescent erotic dream about the actress June Whitfield, happy experiences seeing Ghostbusters and less happy experiences watching David Lynch’s Dune.

There are also occasional light hearted interruptions with details of a log of recent arguments Adam has had with his wife, anecdotes about socially awkward experiences Adam has experienced on trains and perhaps a little too much about his obsession with David Bowie.

As the title suggests, Buxton is inclined to ramble here, just as he does during his ‘Ramble Chats,’ when he interviews people on his podcast. But this is an enjoyable read. Adam Buxton is a thoroughly charming man and is always a delight to listen to.

Ramble Book: Musings on Childhood, Friendship, Family and 80s Pop Culture, by Adam Buxton. Audiobook available now. Hardback/Kindle version available: 3rd September 2020. Published by: Mudlark.

History of British comics timeline: The 1990s

1990

Judge Dredd The Megazine begins. It is still gong today. Early stories include America and Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend.

In 2000AD itself, Judge Dredd faces Necropolis. Rogue Trooper appears in his own annual for the first and, to date, only time.

Edgy monthly Revolver featuring a dark new version of Dan Dare as well as Rogan Gosh and Happenstance and Kismet launches.

With many comics now struggling, adult comic Viz is thriving. Billy the Fish gets his own TV series, voiced by Harry Enfield.

Dennis the Menace TV cartoon on the Cartoon Channel. The Beano celebrates its 2,500th issue

After 34 years, The Beezer joins The Topper (by this point rebranded as Topper 90). The Beezer and Topper is formed.

After 21 years, Whizzer and Chips merges into Buster. Sid’s Snake, Sweeny Todd, Joker and Sweet Tooth are amongst those moving in.

1991

Viewed as a 2000AD for the 1990s, Toxic! featuring Accident Man and The Bogie Man appears. It folds within the year.

A short-lived TV version of Viz’s Roger Mellie The Man on the Telly appears. Roger is voiced by Peter Cook.

Lord Snooty, at this point the longest running Beano story ever, having appeared since 1938 ends. He returns later.

Mandy and Judy merge, later becoming M & J.

Starblazer ends. Revolver merges into Crisis. Crisis ends. For many British comcs, the crisis continues.

Dredd meets Batman in graphic novel, Judgement In Gotham.

1992

The game begins: Button Man debuts in 2000AD.

A TV film of The Bogie Man starring Robbie Coltrane airs.

1993

The final whistle blows for Roy of the Rovers comic. The second Eagle also ends, after just over a decade.

Beezer and Topper ends. Beryl the Peril joins The Dandy, The Numskulls find a home in The Beano. The Beano Video is released.

The controversial Big Dave appears in 2000AD.

The luckless sailor, Jonah, once of The Beano (as well as the short-lived Buddy), re-emerges in The Dandy.

1994

Look-In switches itself off.

1995

The final Deadline.

Two films, the long awaited Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone and Tank Girl film starring Lori Petty are both released. Both are both are critical and commercial failures.

Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future is launched. It s intended to capitalize on the hoped for success of the new Judge Dredd film. Sinister Dexter first appears in the regular 2000AD.

1996

Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future fails. 2000AD (now struggling) reaches its 1,000th issue.

1997

M & J ends.

The Dandy turns 60.

1998

The Beano turns 60. The Beano Club replaces the Dennis the Menace Fan Club. Dennis’s sister Bea is born.

Nikolai Dante begins in 2000AD.

1999

Buster ends after forty years. Both the Buster story itself and many stories which have been running in Buster and other now long defunct titles such as Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee! and Wow! and Knockout since the 1960s and 1970s such as Sid’s Snake, Joker, Ivor Lott & Tony Broke and Sweeny Todd all come to an end.

2000

After a tough decade, 2000AD, appropriately enough, enjoys a big comeback from this year onward.

As of June 2020, it, Viz, Judge Dredd The Megazine, Doctor Who Monthly, Commando and The Beano are the only titles mentioned in any of these timelines which are still going today.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines including Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (amongst other things). He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He was also wrote the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars annuals as well as the 2015 Transformers annual.

History of British comics timeline: The 1980s

1980

The Beano celebrates its 2,000th issue.

Nutty is launched. It’s most memorable story, Bananaman quickly moves to the front page.

The first Judge Dredd annual is published. In 2000AD, Judge Death and Judge Anderson both appear as characters in the Dredd strip.

Speed comes and goes, merging into Tiger.

Mergers: Misty merges into Tammy. The Crunch merges into Hotspur. Penny merges into Jinty. Cheeky merges into Whoopee!

Doctor Who Weekly goes monthly

Buddy begins.

Smudge debuts in The Beano.

1981

A new version of Girl is launched.

The TV-themed Tops begins.

Mergers: Scoop merges into Victor. Jinty merges into Tammy. Hotspur merges into Victor.

The Nemesis the Warlock saga begins properly in 2000AD. The war also begins for Rogue Trooper while Judge Dredd battles an outbreak of Blockmania.

1982

High quality monthly Warrior begins. It is not especially war-like and features V For Vendetta, Marvelman (later Miracleman) and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton.

A new version of The Eagle begins. Dan Dare (or rather his great-great-grandson) appears as do the photo stories Doomlord and Joe Soap.

Judge Dredd fights the Apocalypse War.

Wow! begins.

Jackpot merges into Buster. Milly O’Naire and Penny Less merge with Buster’s Ivor Lott and Tony Broke strip (as the duo’s girlfriends) disappearing from the story in the late 1980s.

Cheeky merges into Whoopee!

The first Beano comic libraries (smaller, monthly comics, featuring one extended story) appear. Other comics follow suit.

1983

Nutty’s Bananaman gets his own TV series.

School Fun begins lessons (briefly).

Spike kicks off.

Mergers: Buddy merges into Spike. Wow! merges into Whoopee! (becoming Whoopee! and Wow!). Debbie (est: 1973) merges into Mandy.

Slaine goes into battle in 2000AD. Extra-terrestrial Skizz also debuts.

What will happen next? Cliff Hanger begins in Buster.

1984

High profile horror comic Scream! begins and ends. It merges into Eagle. The Thirteenth Floor is amongst the stories to move across.

Champ begins.

The Ballad of Halo Jones begins in 2000AD (it ends in 1986). Female-led strips are still a rarity in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Nemesis is joined by the ABC Warriors in The Gothic Empire.

Mergers: TV Comic (est: 1951) switches itself off. Tops merges into Suzy. Tammy (est: 1971) merges into Girl. Spike merges into Champ. School Fun merges into Buster. School Belle is amongst those joining Buster.

Dennis’s pet pig, Rasher gets his own strip in The Beano (until 1988).

1985

Adult comic Viz featuring Roger Mellie the Man on The Telly, Billy The Fish and Sid the Sexist goes nationwide.

Whoopee! (est: 1974) merges into Whizzer and Chips. Warrior gives up the fight. Tiger (est: 1954) merges into The Eagle. Some strips move into Roy of the Rovers. Champ merges into Victor.

Judge Anderson gets a story of her own in 2000AD.

Nutty merges into The Dandy. Bananaman continues on TV until 1986 and continues to thrive in The Dandy. Bananaman appears in several of his own annuals in this decade too.

Ivy the Terrible debuts in The Beano.

Computer Warrior goes into battle in The Eagle.

Captain Britain Monthly, Hoot and Nikki all debut.

Beeb begins (and ends).

1986

The anarchic Oink! launches. ‘Edited’ by Uncle Pigg, stars include Pete and his Pimple, Burp The Smelly Alien From Outer Space and Hector Vector and his Talking T-Shirt.

Diceman, an RPG version of 2000AD runs out of luck quickly and ends.

Hoot merges into The Dandy. Cuddles and Dimples unite in one strip.

Captain Britain Monthly ends.

Calamity James begins in The Beano. Gnasher briefly goes missing in a high profile Dennis the Menace storyline. He soon returns with a litter of puppies including Gnipper. Gnasher and Gnipper now replaces Gnasher’s Tale as a story.

1987

Nipper begins then merges into Buster.

Zenith begins in 2000AD. Now ten years’ old, the comic adopts a more ‘mature’ approach.

The Dandy’s 50th birthday.

1988

Crisis, a more political and grown-up sister title to 2000AD begins featuring Third World War and The New Statesmen.

Deadline comic/magazine starring Tank Girl begins.

The Beano’s 50th birthday.

Mergers: Battle (est: 1974) merges into Eagle. Oink! merges into Buster.

1989

Nikki merges into Bunty. It’s Wicked! begins and ends.

The ‘original’ Dan Dare returns to The Eagle.

Fast Forward, a much-publicised TV-themed comic/magazine launches.

Whizzer and Chips (now struggling) celebrates its 20th birthday.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines including Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (amongst other things). He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He was also wrote the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars annuals as well as the 2015 Transformers annual.

History of British comics timeline: The 1970s

1970

Cor!! is launched. Popular stories include Gus the Gorilla (“You can’t make a monkey out of Gus!”) and The Slimms. One story, Ivor Lott and Tony Broke lasts until 2000 (in Cor!! and elsewhere).

Scorcher, Thunder and Wizard (II) are all launched.

1971

Knockout is launched (an earlier Knockout ran between 1939 and 1963). Stories include Joker, Sammy Shrink, Fuss Pot, Dead Eye Dick and Beat Your Neighbour.

Chalky (“he’s quick on the draw!”) debuts in Cor!!

Countdown begins.

TV-themed magazine and comic Look-In is switched on.

Faceache debuts in Jet. Jet merges into Buster soon after.

Tammy begins.

Other mergers: Thunder merges into Lion. TV21 merges into Valiant.

1972

Babyface Finlayson, (“The Cutest Bandit in the West”) debuts in The Beano.

Rent-A-Ghost Ltd. debuts in Buster. It’s arrival predates TV’s Rentaghost by three years and they are unconnected.

School swot and teacher’s pet, Cuthbert Cringeworthy takes his place in Class 2B of Bash Street School.

Countdown turns into TV Action.

Sweet Tooth debuts in Whizzer and Chips.

1973

Supernatural comedy title, Shiver and Shake materialises, attempting a similar double-headed format to Whizzer and Chips. Enfant terrible, Sweeny Toddler is a highlight, long outlasting the comic itself.

Buzz starts as does girls’ title, Debbie.

Mergers: TV Action merges into TV Comic. Knockout merges into Whizzer and Chips, bringing Joker, Fuss Pot and Sammy Shrink with it.

Timothy Tester joins Whizzer and Chips.

1974

Dennis the Menace moves to the front-page of The Beano, ending Biffo the Bear’s 26-year reign there. Dennis has remained there ever since.

Whoopee! begins, featuring Clever Dick and The Bumpkin Billionaires (and soon, Sweeny Toddler).

Jinty and Warlord both begin.

It is a tough year economically with a number of titles old and new folding: June (est: 1961) merges into Tammy. Lion (est: 1952) merges into Valiant. Romeo (est: 1957) merges into Diana. Scorcher merges into Tiger. Shiver and Shake merges into the new Whoopee!

Cor!! merges into Buster. Although the weekly comic proved short-lived, Cor!! annuals continue to appear until 1986.

1975

War comic Battle begins.

Cracker is launched.

X-Ray Specs debuts in Buster.

Monster Fun featuring Gums and Kid Kong appears. It is ‘edited’ by Frankie Stein, formerly of Shiver and Shake.

Ball Boy kicks off in The Beano.

Pete’s Pocket Grandpa fits comfortably into The Dandy.

Buzz merges into The Topper.

1976

The Dennis the Menace Fan Club is launched.

Action, the most controversial title of the 1970s, launches.

Krazy begins featuring The Krazy Gang and Birdman and Chicken. Pongalongapongo later Pongo Snodgrass makes his first appearance in The Krazy Gang.

Bullet, Captain Britain and Spellbound are launched.

Roy of the Rovers from Tiger gets his own comic. Tiger continues.

The Leopard of Lime Street creeps onto the pages of Buster.

Mergers: Monster Fun merges into Buster. Cracker merges into The Beezer. Diana (est: 1963) merges into Jackie. Hornet merges into Hotspur. Valiant (est: 1962) goes into Battle.

1977

The ‘Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’ 2000AD is launched, ‘edited’ by alien, Tharg the Mighty. A new Dan Dare strip features but the real star is futuristic lawman Judge Dredd who debuts in the second issue.

Plug, centered round the character from The Bash Street Kids is launched. Cheeky, based around a similar looking character previously in Krazy is launched a month later.

Sparky (est: 1965) merges into The Topper. Captain Britain ends.

Action ends. Contrary to legend, it is not banned but merges into Battle.

Spin-off strip Gnasher’s Tale begins in The Beano.

Tricky Dicky debuts in Topper. A different character with the same name previously appeared in Cor!!

1978

High quality 2000AD sister title Star Lord is launched. Sadly, it fails and merges into 2000AD quickly bringing Ro-Busters (featuring Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein) and Strontium Dog with it. All of these characters prove to be popular and enduring.

Sam Slade: Robohunter debuts in 2000AD.

Lazy Bones begins dozing away on the pages of Whizzer and Chips.

Book Worm debuts in Whoopee!

Emma begins as do the titles, Scoop and Misty.

Krazy merges into Whizzer and Chips bringing with it Pongo Snodgrass and The Krazy Gang. Spellbound merges into Debbie. Wizard merges into Victor. Bullet also misses its target and merges into Warlord. Target begins. It also misses its own target and promptly merges into TV Comic.

1979

Adventure comic Tornado follows a similar trajectory to Star Lord (1978), quickly merging into 2000AD. No titles have merged into 2000AD in the forty years since. Hammerstein from Ro-Busters now joins the ABC Warriors. Ro-Jaws joins him later. Judge Dredd goes into The Cursed Earth.

Jackpot begins. Stories include Jack Pott (originally from Cor!!), Laser Eraser, The Incredible Sulk and Milly O’Naire and Penny Less.

Plug merges into The Beezer. For a short while, Plug thus has his own strip in The Beezer while also appearing regularly as usual in The Bash Street Kids in The Beano.

Rasher, Dennis’s pet pig debuts in Dennis the Menace.

General Jumbo is retired from The Beano after 26 years of service.

The first Bash Street Kids’ Book appears (dated: 1980). Dennis the Menace is the only other Beano character to have got his own annual.

Emma merges into Judy.

Tricky Dicky replaces Danny’s Tranny (ahem) on the front page of Topper.

The Crunch, Doctor Who Weekly, Penny and Starblazer all begin.

Acclaimed strip, Charlie’s War begins in Battle.

Chris Donald begins selling homemade copies of his adult comic Viz around pubs in Newcastle.

The ‘new’ Dan Dare fizzles out in 2000AD. Judge Dredd is now unquestionably the comic’s main strip.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines including Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (amongst other things). He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He was also wrote the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars annuals as well as the 2015 Transformers annual.

History of British comics timeline: The 1950s

1950

The Eagle launches featuring the futuristic Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future on the front page. His first story-line sees him traveling to Venus where he encounters the Treens led by the malevolent Mekon. Other early Eagle stories include PC49, Harris Tweed and Riders of the Range.

Canine hero, Black Bob becomes the first Dandy character to star in his own annual. Seven more Black Bob books appear before 1965.

School Friend begins. Stories include The Silent Three At St Kit’s. It is reportedly the biggest selling girls’ comic ever, at one point selling one million copies a week.

1951

Dennis the Menace makes his debut in The Beano. Biffo the Bear remains on the front page.

Girl, a sister comic to The Eagle is launched. Early stories include Kitty Hawke and Her All-Girl Air Crew, Lettice Leefe: The Greenest Girl In School and nautical adventure, Captain Starling.

Dan Dare embarks on The Red Moon Mystery.

1952

Dan Dare is Marooned on Mercury. Luck of the Legion also debuts in the comic this year.

Adventure comic, Lion, a potential rival to The Eagle is launched. Memorable characters include Robot Archie (initially referred to as The Jungle Robot).

Gerald Campion debuts in the title role in TV’s Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School. The character first appeared in Magnet in 1908.

1953

The Topper first appears. Mickey the Monkey appears on the cover but the most memorable character is Beryl the Peril.

A new comic Robin is launched. It is intended to be a companion paper to The Eagle. It is aimed at the under-eights and features TV’s Andy Pandy as a regular character.

A vintage year for The Beano with Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, General Jumbo and Roger the Dodger all making their first appearance.

Dan Dare launches Operation Saturn.

TV Fun is launched, accompanying the long-running Film Fun and Radio Fun.

1954

Yet another companion to The Eagle appears. Swift is aimed at even younger readers than Robin. Tarna: Jungle Boy, Mono the Moon Man and a comic version of radio’s Educating Archie all appear.

Tiger comic arrives. The first issue features footballing legend, Roy of the Rovers.

The first Desperate Dan ‘annual’ appears. Only four more appear in 1978, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

School-based story, When The Bell Rings begins in The Beano. It later becomes The Bash Street Kids.

The Dan Dare story, Prisoners of Space begins.

1955

The first Dennis the Menace Book is published. Dennis is the first Beano character to get his own annual. He now appears in colour on the back page of The Beano every week.

Keyhole Kate leaves The Dandy. She will return.

Dan Dare appears in The Man From Nowhere.

1956

New arrival The Beezer joins The Topper on newsagent shelves. Ginger dominates the front page.

When The Bell Rings, in The Beano, changes its name to The Bash Street Kids.

1957

Much-loved children’s TV series Captain Pugwash begins. It was originally a short-lived story in The Eagle in 1950.

Jonah, the hopeless sailor, sets sail in The Beano.

Amnesiac Mark Question (‘The Boy With A Future But No Past!’) debuts in The Eagle. The Reign of the Robots begins in Dan Dare.

1958

Bunty begins. Strips include The Four Marys (‘Fun at boarding school with a frolicsome foursome’).

Colonel Blink, the Short-Sighted Gink stumbles onto the pages of The Beezer.

Topper’s Beryl the Peril appears in her first annual, this Christmas.

1959

The Three Bears blast off in The Beano.

The long-running Hotspur folds. A text-based story paper rather than a comic, it is replaced by The New Hotspur which is definitely a comic.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines including Yours Retro, Best of British and Comic Scene – in which he wrote about Judge Death, The Ballad of Halo Jones, Dan Dare, The Eagle and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (amongst other things). He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He was also wrote the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars annuals as well as the 2015 Transformers annual.

TV review: The Other One

Following the sudden death of family patriarch Colin (Simon Greenall), the Walcott family are soon in for another rude shock. For, it soon emerges that in addition to his union with the now bereaved wife, Tess (Rebecca Front) and their grown-up daughter Cathy (Ellie White), Colin was conducting a secret affair. He has thus also left behind a chain-smoking mistress, Marilyn (Siobhan Finneran) and another daughter, also called Catherine (Lauren Socha), known as ‘Cat.’ Cat is almost exactly the same age as her twenty-something half-sister.

Understandably furious, middle-class Tess embarks on a series of ill-considered relationships with men, often played by actors from Drop the Dead Donkey. The already highly-strung Cathy, meanwhile, continues with her career and her unpromising engagement to the nice but fatally weak-willed Marcus (Amit Shah). Much to her mother’s horror, she soon also develops a close friendship with her more confident, wrong-side-of-the-tracks half-sister.

It is this essentially good-natured heart to Holly Walsh and Pippa Brown’s series, which picks up from where the pilot first aired in 2017 left off), which really elevates it to the level of one of the best new British sitcoms of recent years. The cast, particularly Ellie White, are all brilliant and there are a number of excellent supporting characters, notably Stephen Tomkinson’s sinister climate change denying ex-Geography teacher and Caroline Quentin’s barmy but eternally optimistic auntie. Quentin’s character indeed, would warrant a spin-off series on her own.

And despite all the jokes about class, Marcus’s disastrous ‘dick pics’ disaster and the essential betrayal at the heart of the Walcott’s marriage, there’s a real sweetness to the developing relationship between the two Catherines which makes this a joy to watch.

More please!

All episodes available on the BBC iPlayer,

Blu-ray/DVD review: Laughter in Paradise (1951)

After a long life of pranks and practical jokes, the wealthy Henry Russell (Hugh Griffith) is dead, leaving aside a substantial sum of money to four of his relatives. But old Henry being Henry, things are not going to be quite as simple as that. For each of his relatives are all flawed in various different ways and under the terms of the old rascal’s will, each will have to complete a very specific task before they can get at his money. Each challenge has been perfectly designed to force them to confront their own worst failings.

Agnes (Fay Compton), for example, a dreadful snob is forced to spend a full month in the employ of a middle-class family headed, in this case, by a hypochondriac Scot (played by John Laurie, later of Dad’s Army). For the supremely timid young bank clerk, Herbert (George Cole), however, the task is different. He must stage a hold up at the very bank he works for using a water pistol. Simon (Guy Middleton), meanwhile, is a first-class cad and a womaniser in the mould of the type of characters Terry-Thomas often used to play in films like this. He is obliged to marry the first single woman he speaks to, to get his share of the loot. He actually cheats straight away ignoring the first single woman he meets, a beautiful but presumably penniless young cigarette seller. This very small part is played by Audrey Hepburn in her screen debut.

Finally, there is Deniston (Alastair Sim), a retired army officer, whose life is already pretty complicated even before Henry’s demise. Publicly engaged to an overenthusiastic armed services girl, ‘Fluffy’ (Joyce Grenfell, great as ever), Deniston leads a double life enjoying a secret career dictating the trashy American-style crime novels he has composed to his adoring secretary (Eleanor Summerfield) which are then published under a variety of pseudonyms. Deniston’s task is to commit one actual genuine crime which will seem him incarcerated for precisely 28 days. Sim’s character finds the execution of this, surprisingly difficult.

There are a few extras. Although he obviously hasn’t watched the film that recently, Stephen Fry’s knowledge and genuine love for the film is obvious during his interview. We also get to see Sim hamming it up as the Roman Emperor Nero opposite his frequent co-star George Cole in a wartime short. More dedicated Sim fans might want to listen to his 1949 speech delivered on being elected Rector of Edinburgh University (beating future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan) in full.

Newly restored nearly seventy-years after it first appeared, Laughter In Paradise is still lots of fun. Alastair Sim, in particular gets some marvellous screen moments, self-consciously turning a bust of Shakespeare the other way at one point so as if to prevent the Bard seeing him delivering the particularly purple prose of his latest potboiler (e.g. “she was one hot tomato”). Other brilliant sequences see him make several abortive attempts to throw a brick – for some reason, neatly tied up in string – through a jeweller’s shop window and and a long, drawn out attempt to get caught shoplifting an umbrella in a Piccadilly department store. “The wrong tartan,” he explains, on returning it, embarrassed.

A genuine classic.

Vintage Classics. Studio Canal. Original release: 1951. Cert: U.

Release date: 29 June 2020

Running time: 80 minutes

Directed: Mario Zampi

Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, Joyce Grenfell, Hugh Griffith, Audrey Hepburn

DVD/Blu-ray extras:

New Alastair Sim and Laughter In Paradise Interview with Stephen Fry

Ministry of Information short Nero: Save Fuel (1943) starring Alastair Sim and George Cole

Stills Gallery

Alastair Sim’s 1949 Rectorial Address at Edinburgh University (Audio Only)

Easter Egg

DVD/Blu-Ray review: The Green Man (1956)

Chris Hallam's World View

The 1950s was undoubtedly a classic period in the career of character actor, Alastair Sim. This film sees him playing Hawkins, a watchmaker who also operates as an assassin. Early scenes demonstrate how Hawkins has often adopted a variety of ingenious disguises before successfully blowing up his victims. His main target here is an adulterous politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley) who he tracks to a hotel, The Green Man of the title.

It isn’t long before things take a farcical turn as a vacuum cleaner salesman curiously called William Blake (a young George Cole) and a local beauty (Jill Adams) get drawn into proceedings. With Terry-Thomas playing a philandering cad called Charles Boughtflower and a trio of elderly female musicians also becoming involved, Hawkins’ carefully laid out plans soon descend into chaos.

Although hardly groundbreaking, The Green Man is pleasantly enjoyable fare, packed with familiar faces recognisable to anyone…

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Book review: The Year of the Geek, by James Clarke

The Year of the Geek: 365 Adventures From The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Universe, by James Clarke. Published by: Aurum Press.

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When did it become fashionable to become a geek? Geekiness is, after all, surely after all, by definition a shameful, untrendy preoccupation. Does this mean that anyone who claims to aspire to be a geek is necessarily a pretender to the nerd throne?

Well, no. Some people blame this trend on things like US sitcom Big Bang Theory and the excellent but now defunct British near equivalent The IT Crowd. But, in truth, this tendency which has resulted in websites like Den of Geek and books like this, has always been there. After all, you can’t get Spider-man without meeting Peter Parker first.

This book takes a chronological approach with a different geek anniversary highlighted for every day of the year. This, it must be said, is potentially of some use to someone who writes professionally on geek issues like me.

May 25, for example, is the anniversary of Star Wars’ US release in 1977. Lord of the Rings’ author JRR Tolkien was born on January 3rd while even the fictional birthday of Harry Potter (July 31st 1990) is noted.

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Some of the anniversaries are arguably not very major (the fourth season premiere of Babylon 5 on November 4 1995 is commemorated – as if any of us would forget this date anyway?) Some are arguably not very geeky (the outbreak of the First World War in 1914) but are interesting anyway. There is some discussion of each anniversary.

What elevates this book above the norm, however, is the innovative use of infographics used to illustrate a rich array of charts which demonstrate everything from the longevity of respective Doctor Who actors to the box office success of the Star Trek films.

An excellent addition to the coffee table of every socially maladjusted maladroit in the land.

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Book review: Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore

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In 1978, Alan Moore decided to quit the job at the Northampton gas board and dedicate himself full time to breaking into the comics industry as a writer. It was a high risk strategy. He was twenty-four years old and his young wife was pregnant. But Moore saw it as his last chance to exchange the job he hated for the career he loved.

Success came slowly with occasional one-off stories (Tharg’s Futureshocks) in the new science fiction comic, 2000AD. Later, came Skizz, D.R. and Quinch and my own personal favourite, The Ballad of Halo Jones. More success came through the short-lived and inappropriately titled Warrior comic (it was not war-related at all). Moore provided the backbone to the comic between 1982 and 1985, most famously with V For Vendetta, set in a late 1990s futuristic fascist dystopia. He also wrote Marvelman, now known as Miracleman, a promising superhero strip derailed by a legal dispute with Marvel Comics. This proved an forerunner to his greatest success, Watchmen for DC.

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Today, Alan Moore is still in Northampton, in his sixties and is renowned as one of the most successful comic writers ever albeit one with a bit of reputation for disputes with his employers or prospective filmmakers attempting to adapt his works (Moore has famously never seen any of the four films directly based on his own comics).

His fascinating story is detailed thoroughly by the always excellent Lance Parkin in this comprehensive biography.

Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin, published by Aurum Press (2013)

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Book review: Easily Distracted by Steve Coogan

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Easily Distracted by Steve Coogan

Published by: Century

Let’s be clear: Steve Coogan is not Alan Partridge.

There are similarities, obviously. They both look almost exactly the same. Both are totally car-obsessed.  Both have a love for James Bond. In one episode of I’m Alan Partridge…, Partridge memorably recreates the entire opening sequence of The Spy Who Loves Me. Coogan, meanwhile, admits to having a picture of Roger Moore in a safari suit on his bedroom wall as a child. As an adult, he was overjoyed to be mentioned briefly in Roger Moore’s own autobiography.

But the resemblance soon ends. Partridge seems to be always around ten years older than Coogan himself. Coogan has just turned fifty, Partridge must thus be now about sixty, although the age gap seemed to narrow in the film, Alpha Papa. Coogan is a left-winger with an understandable and fully justified hatred of our tabloid press. Partridge is much less politically sophisticated, a Daily Mail reader and “homosceptic” who supports the death penalty “for treason and murder”. Coogan has been much more successful with women than Alan, who makes largely inept romantic overtures towards beauty show contestants, much younger radio station employees and whose idea of a hot date is going to a “cracking owl sanctuary”. Oddly, Coogan attributes his success in this regard, which predates his fame to his essential geekiness: “they liked the fact that I wasn’t an alpha male. I was a bit square. A bit nerdish.” It has often ended in disaster, however.

There is far more to Steve Coogan than Alan Partridge, however, and despite an occasional failure (like his 24 Hour Party People character, his real life friend Tony Wilson) to wear his learning lightly and avoid pretension (“I’ve learned late in life to understand the true beauty of thoughts and reflections”), this is an enjoyable well-written book. The first section deals with various highs and lows: his recent triumph with the film, Philomena, his war with the evil forces of News International, the filming of Alpha Papa and an early nadir at the 1990 Edinburgh Festival during which he “spent far too much time imagining what it would be like to be Sean Hughes” then seemingly bound for superstardom, hard as it is to believe now. The second section is more chronological, describing his generally happy Irish Catholic northern English upbringing. His brother later had a top twenty hit with the Mock Turtles’ “Can You Dig It?”

The third segment deals with Coogan’s rise to fame through college, Spitting Image and radio and TV up to the mid-nineties. There is perhaps not enough about Coogan’s actual career since he achieved fame: Around The World In Eighty Days isn’t mentioned, perhaps understandably as it was a big flop, nor is Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible. But successes like Cruise of the Gods and Coogan’s Run are barely mentioned either. Coogan will also doubtless surprise many by admitting to liking Saxondale more than Alan Partridge.

Comedy is a vicious business but while he admits to rightly loathing Bernard Manning who he has met, On The Buses and to not personally being a fan of Michael McIntyre (“not my cup of tea”), he is remarkably generous about almost everyone he has worked with, usually only encountering tension with them if they are unable to work with him again for some reason. He admits to finding Chris Morris “odd” and was “hurt” when John Thomson, by then a big star thanks to The Fast Show and Cold Feet understandably no longer wanted to be Paul Calf’s sidekick “Fat Bob” anymore. Coogan also once almost came to blows with early collaborator Patrick Marber (a regular on Alan Partridge’s sofa, who in one guise was accidentally shot dead on TV by Alan on the last episode of Knowing Me, Knowing You…”) and the two seem to have drifted apart, despite reconciling afterwards. Marber is now better known as a writer and screenwriter but Coogan is still clearly immensely grateful to him. “God bless Patrick Marber,” are words unlikely to crop up in Lee and Herring’s memoirs. They appear here.

In A Cock and Bull Story (and later The Trip) Steve Coogan’s character is continuously annoyed when Rob Brydon repeatedly adopts an Alan Partridge voice to impersonate Coogan. In truth, he seems far more at ease with his inner demons than tabloid mythology suggests. Let us hope so. He is a national treasure.

And the book? Lovely stuff.

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DVD/Blu-ray review: School For Scoundrels (1960)

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Directed by: Robert Hamer

Starring: Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Alastair Sim, Janette Scott, Dennis Price, Peter Jones

Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) is, by his own admission, a failure. Though he runs his own small office, he proves totally incapable of keeping his newfound girlfriend (Scott) away from the bounderish intentions of Raymond Delaunay (Terry-Thomas). After he is conned further into buying a ridiculously clapped-out car, Palfrey decides to take action, travelling to the College of Lifemanship headed by one Dr. Potter (Sim) in Yeovil.

There is plenty to charm here in this film, an adaptation of Stephen Potter’s now largely forgotten Gamesmanship books. Terry-Thomas is on career-best form, peaking during a game of tennis, while the remaining cast (all except Scott, are sadly now deceased) are as reliable as they are familiar to the audience as they must have been to each other. John Le Mesurier, Hattie Jacques and Irene Handl make up the numbers, as does future sitcom writer Jeremy Lloyd (at thirty, playing a school student!)

The problem is indicated by the gentle subtitle, How to Win without Actually Cheating. Cheating would actually be a whole lot more fun than what occurs here and frankly Palfrey’s transformation after the course is more akin to that enjoyed by someone who has just attended a self-assertiveness class than that of someone who has truly turned to the dark side.

The best of the bonus features is British comedy expert Graham McCann’s discussion of Terry-Thomas. For  while Peter Bradshaw makes great claims for the film, during his interview, in truth, this is a gentle so-so comedy: pleasant, but little more.

Studio Canal release. Out: now.

Bonus features

Interview with Peter Bradshaw, Film Critic

Interview with Chris Potter, grandson of Stephen Potter

Interview with comedy author Graham McCann on Terry-Thomas

Stills Gallery

Trailer

Book review: The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Jem Roberts

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Frood, as in “There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is” is a word created by Douglas Adams himself. He would never have referred to himself as one of course and one wonders if the term which is defined as a “really amazing together guy” by no less an authority than The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy generally applied to Adams, a man who was, after all, notorious for missing deadlines. What’s not in dispute, thirty-five years after his first novel first appeared and thirteen years after his absurdly premature death is that Adams was a genius and among the top set of the best British comic writers of the twentieth century.

Adams was at his least “froody” only a short while before his greatest success. Six foot five inches tall and prone to taking day long baths while his housemate rising comedy producer legend John Lloyd went to work at the BBC, Adams despaired of ever being successful himself. This is odd as we are only talking 1976 here when Adams was still just 24. It is also a little odd as he had already achieved quite a bit such as working alongside his heroes Monty Python (by a strange coincidence appearing in one episode of Python, number 42).

But the next few years would see a period of frantic overwork for Adams: scripting for his dream show Doctor Who, writing a children’s cartoon Doctor Snuggles to make ends meet and, of course, scripting the radio series, TV shows and books of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. The saga would make Adams a millionaire before he was thirty and would dominate the last twenty years of his life.

The Babel Fish. The number “42”. Marvin the paranoid android (a popular character, who, of course, was not actually especially paranoid, just depressed). Towels. Slartibartfast. Vogon poetry. The saga provided the perfect vehicle for Adam’s hugely inventive brain. Five novels were produced in total (though the fourth one So Long And Thanks For All The Fish was a bit of a dud) and Adams was behind numerous adaptations notably a memorable text based computer game and various attempts to launch Hitchhiker as a film. This was, of course, only finally realised after Adams’ death. The result by Garth Jennings in 2005 was a mixed bag as Roberts notes somewhere between a success and a failure. The closest Adams came to a film was a possible collaboration with future Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. This foundered over Adam’s script which left any director little creative leeway and the saga’s previous tendency to resist any sort of narrative structure.

Like Jem Roberts’ brilliantly exhaustive previous book The True History of the Black Adder, this is a superb well researched book, especially detailed on all the many side projects Adams embarked upon with varying degrees of success. It is truly as essential a guide for any fan of the saga as the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide was for Ford Prefect as he travelled across the universe.

It is a shock to realise Douglas Adams would be barely into his sixties if he were alive even now. This is a fitting tribute to a giant of comic literature, taken from us far too early.