Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Another review, this time not for my book, but for Prime Minister, You Wanted to See Me: a history of Week Ending by Ian Greaves and Justin Lewis. Choice quotes from the Chortle critique include "the authors have employed the sensibilities of a trainspotter, and reduced 28 years of radio comedy to a catalogue of dry, passionless statistics", and "It must have taken hours upon hours of tedious research to compile this book, but you can’t help but feel it’s time wasted on something that cannot, surely, be of interest to anybody". Ouch.

The book in question is published by Kaleidoscope, the excellent organisation devoted to promoting interest in archive television and radio, and finding lost programmes. It would appear that the reviewer, Steve Bennett, hasn't seen a Kaleidoscope book before, because this is what they do - they cram as much information as they possibly can into their books, some of which are more directories than historical narratives. They're not meant to read like a John Grisham novel. They're research tools, and I'm immensely grateful that they exist. Bennett notes, quite rightly, that Week Ending's importance is less because of its inherent quality (in fact, the gags were often woefully poor) than the fact that it gave first breaks to pretty much everyone who came to prominence in comedy and satire between the 1970s and the 1990s. The exhaustive, painstaking show-by-show, sketch-by-sketch listing is, he says, tedious. No, no, no. I also fail to see how "Over 25 pages, there are no fewer than 106 footnotes" can be presented as a failing. Footnotes contain vital supplementary information that would otherwise hold up the main narrative. In compiling it and publishing this book, Greaves, Lewis and Kaleidoscope have done future comedy historians a great service. The authors have spent days sweating over P-as-Bs at Caversham so no-one else has to. This book will be of immense worth and interest to anyone attempting to research British comedy of the recent past.

My main problem with the review is that Bennett seems to have savaged it for not being something it was never intended to be. Anyone who says that my problem is also motivated by my friendship with Ian and Justin, and the fact that I owe Simon Coward from Kaleidoscope £50 for a part-share in an Oscar Peterson Jazz 625 telerecording, is bang off the mark and will be hearing from my lawyer forthwith.

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