It turns out it was only half a good idea. The first half of the book falls into all the traps of the sort biographical writing I hate: a litany of dates and lots of interpreted thoughts and situations generally beginning with 'Kenneth must've thought...'
The roll call of dates doesn't really end but the second half, where Johnston has better access to source material, is better and more interesting - particularly revealing Horne's workaholic nature and roving eye for the lady - but the quotes he chooses skirt around these issue, hinting about bigger stories that are yet to be revealed.
Funnily enough Johnston falls into a similar trap covering the 3 huge shows that cemented Horne's popularity, managing to select possibly the least funny quotes from Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, Beyond our Ken and Round the Horne.
In many ways it feels like an opportunity missed, particularly to explore what drove him to work so much beyond the glib 'workaholic' tag. Although on the upside, like Born Brilliant, the sum of Johnston's parts doubled my desire to dig out the radio shows, so maybe a qualified success?(less)
I suppose the trick to writing a good biography is to leave the reader with new appreciation of the subject, whilst not making the whole process a did...moreI suppose the trick to writing a good biography is to leave the reader with new appreciation of the subject, whilst not making the whole process a didactic procession of dates. Extra points can be added for providing insights from new sources and deducted for embroidering the facts with their own interpretations of events, a sin which is usually accompanied by a 'quote' in the tone of voice of the subject, along with numerous exclamation marks!!!!
Stevens does all this and more in a quite revealing study of Williams that is an utter pleasure to read. This is more impressive given Williams' status as a much-loved national treasure and consequent breadth and detail already in the public domain.
What sets Born Brilliant aside is Stevens' extensive use of the massive collection of Williams' diaries, plus his obvious charm in getting close friends to offer up stories, letters and quotes, to give a real depth and insight to his subject.
Not only that Stevens has a really light touch to his writing that allows Williams' numerous personalities, moods, and characters to come through, and particularly revealing his own understanding of his flaws and limits. The whole leaves you with a greater appreciation of the Williams' behind the big nose and braying laugh, and a desire to immediately go out and watch a bunch of Carry Ons.../Listen to Round the Horne to see this genius in action.(less)
Oh - so this is what Romantic literature is all about! If only Dr Robert Peter Manwaring and myself had read this during our ill-fated dalliance with...moreOh - so this is what Romantic literature is all about! If only Dr Robert Peter Manwaring and myself had read this during our ill-fated dalliance with Byron at University, it would've been much less ill-fated. And much, much funnier.
It's got everything: mad stereotypes, owl-infested castles, secret chambers, completely made-up ridiculous words and huge dollops sarcasm, with even more sarcastic footnotes. Even better is the fact (from the notes I hasten to add - there's a reason I scraped a 2:2) Peacock was a close friend of Shelley and knew the other Romantics, making his piss-taking even more spot-on.
Not quite as laugh-out loud as the debut, but still compelling and not just in a maudlin nostalgic way.
Th...moreIn and out in a day (well an evening) - Boom!
Not quite as laugh-out loud as the debut, but still compelling and not just in a maudlin nostalgic way.
This time there's a lot more poignancy as Adrian hits his mid-teens and struggles to cope with a broken home, shattered love, death, depression, BBC rejection, 38 spots and looming O-levels. Even the dog has a hard time.
Robert Manwaring, I suspect this was exactly like your youth. (less)
Ahhh! Happy memories of 1982 (?), with quite possibly the best Christmas present my aunt ever bought me.
Brilliantly I still remember vast tracts of Ad...moreAhhh! Happy memories of 1982 (?), with quite possibly the best Christmas present my aunt ever bought me.
Brilliantly I still remember vast tracts of Adrian's musings. Even better is the feeling of finally being in the 'club' now I've cracked Townsend's lurking jokes for adults, a full 30 years after reading the the first time around.
I'd also forgotten about Adrian's low-level lit crit of the world's greatest novels. Although being an intellectual and having received two rejection letters from the BBC would explain how he read War and Peace in two days...(less)
Like most people I suspect, it's the Monroe film that bought me towards Anita Loos' light-hearted romp through the cultural hinterland of 1920s Americ...moreLike most people I suspect, it's the Monroe film that bought me towards Anita Loos' light-hearted romp through the cultural hinterland of 1920s American. At least, I recognised the title from the film, and with vague allusions to Edith Wharton on the back cover, promptly picked it up.
In either case there is a teensy element of disappointment with the end product: Whilst generally amusing, it doesn't have the polish or archness of Dame Edith's prose, or the laugh-out-loud moments of the film, and Loos'/Lorelei's phonetic misspelling does rather jar at the start.
However once you get going there's no looking back as Loos' heroines move from rich man to rich man, Ritz to Ritz, all in the name of becoming more 'educated'.
And as if by magic, or more probably because Loos' has become a more consistent writer, the second half - But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes - is a much more rounded affair, with satisfying glut of flapper bitchiness liberally distributed around literary figures, the rich and between Lorelei and Dorothy.(less)
I think the work of poets, more than any other oeuvre, contain nuggets you tend to come across more often than not in collected works - either of thei...moreI think the work of poets, more than any other oeuvre, contain nuggets you tend to come across more often than not in collected works - either of their own cannon or within a stylistic or thematically linked collection. So you get a fractured view of them as seen through the prism of the editor.
So whilst I think I love McGough, in fact, I've never actually read a complete body of his work as he's written it. In fact the poet I've always thought I love, I've loved on the basis of the collections he's appeared in, so it was both refreshing and interesting to follow his train of thought through his own stylistic/thematic whole so you really are getting it warts and all, and scrape the unknown lows as well as the more famous highs.
After the Merrymaking has plenty of both, and in amongst the more well-known poems were examples that really should be better recognised, and an equal amount of duff ones which naturally get left out of any retrospectives. However, what is more interesting isn't that they are duff in terms of how they are written, but in terms of how 'of their time' they are. Not that I imagine free love, drugs and rape were in anyway condoned in the Sixties, but the poems all share a naivety we associate with those times which doesn't always translate to the 21st Century.
Out of all the authors in the world, Tim Moore is the one whom I've given away the most copies of his books - and usually French Revolutions at that....moreOut of all the authors in the world, Tim Moore is the one whom I've given away the most copies of his books - and usually French Revolutions at that. Going on holiday, watching Eurovision, walking with a donkey - there is no situation a Tim Moore book can't cover.
Like everything, I can totally accept he's an acquired taste, as my wife's often-bemused expression testifies whilst I'm quoting some pithy Moore-ease through gales of tears and snot-spattered sniggers, but he's to my taste. In fact in many ways I consider him my author: His interests (cycling, travelling, that prosaic 'Keep Calm and Carry On' mantra that has become a slogan for Blighty) are my interests. He lives in West London as do I, and I am convinced should we just bump into each other - over a low-priced budget coffee say - we'd be amazing friends.
Clearly I'm mad, but whenever I see a new book I get very excited. Sometimes he's let me down, and Null Points was pretty appositely titled, but this one contains a Greatest Hits of his touchpoints, on a trip around the arse-end of Britain: travelling with something entirely unsuitable to the task, awful music, hastily-cobbled together historical scene setting, taking the piss out of his wife's Scandinavian roots, and his compulsive lurching to the budget end of the scale. Even better, he visits my in-laws home towns as part of his mission to visit the worse places in the Country, so I clearly won't be taking the piss out of them anytime soon.
I could go on, but instead I'm now going to fill up my quotes section with pretty much most of the book, so beware.(less)
The first couple of chapters of sort-of river exploration, aided by 70s football anecdotes and super-strength lager were quite mirthsome, beyond that...moreThe first couple of chapters of sort-of river exploration, aided by 70s football anecdotes and super-strength lager were quite mirthsome, beyond that it was quite dull with each chapter being, essentially, the same only with a different underground river.(less)
**spoiler alert** Quite brilliant, and particularly when you remember Nance wrote this whilst still shut up in grim Asthall Manor as a teenager. Remem...more**spoiler alert** Quite brilliant, and particularly when you remember Nance wrote this whilst still shut up in grim Asthall Manor as a teenager. Remember that and you have to allow her enough leeway to forgive the slightly woolly ending from the fire onwards.
But slightly disjointed storytelling aside, and one really almost unfathomable passage early on, what gets Highland Fling on it's rollicking path is the acidic-whilst-caring creation of her characters, and her Austen-ian ability to capture the nuances of day-to-day life of the social class occupied, and being challenged, by her waspishly-written characters.
Loved it, and contains my quote of the year so far, whilst discussing Scotland:
"To make matters worse, Linda, it appears, is madly in love with a monster of a Scotsman, who came to dinner last night in his kilt. Those hairy old knees decided us. "The Mountains I can bear," said Loudie. "Natives in the semi-nude at dinner time is another matter. I leave tomorrow.""
I've always avoided Alan Bennett, partly because of the terribly tedious conversations so beloved of Dr Robert Peter Manwaring and John Humber...moreGenius!
I've always avoided Alan Bennett, partly because of the terribly tedious conversations so beloved of Dr Robert Peter Manwaring and John Humber at college, but mainly because of the terribly tedious topics of conversation he chose. After all, how excited can you get about tea cakes, knitting balaclavas and talking about her at 64s corns? I suspect he's a much easier author to parody than actually read...
However, this was utterly brilliant! Acerbic, funny and sprinkled with enough literary references to make you feel smug and knowing as you spotted them. Despite seemingly taking four days to read, it actually only took me about three hours, tops. Although obviously interspersed with some holiday child-wrangling. (less)
This is no bad thing as it's ripping read, populated by brilliantly larger-than-life characters, including the wonderfully understated heroine Lady Sophia, who seems to stumble from dinner at the Ritz, to a murder investigation to her First Aid post, and all with the wide-eyed innocence and cutting wit that made Nancy so famous.
Having slogged through Hons and Rebels, this was the perfect festive pick me up to remind me why Nancy was so ace.
The Christmas theme is almost entire...moreHaving slogged through Hons and Rebels, this was the perfect festive pick me up to remind me why Nancy was so ace.
The Christmas theme is almost entirely irrelevant to this romp in the country. Featuring infernal devices, a high class tart, and the world's worst, most pious Victorian poet Nancy brings London's braying demi-monde face-to-face with rural England.
There's shades of The Pursuit of Love lurking in there, and the relationship between Paul Fotheringay and Annabelle Fortescue were surely inspirational for Waugh's Decline and Fall?
She's too too sick-makingly talented for words.(less)
Growing up, I was a massive Caitlin Moran fan; she was clearly the best thing in the late, un-lamented Melody Maker, and was hysterical on Naked City,...moreGrowing up, I was a massive Caitlin Moran fan; she was clearly the best thing in the late, un-lamented Melody Maker, and was hysterical on Naked City, so it came somewhat as a shock to discover she's younger than me. I still can't quite get my head around the fact as a 18/19 year old, I was taking musical advice from a 16 year old, who it turns out was clearly psychotic.
Anyhoo, if you've ever read any of her columns, you won't be surprised by the ranty style, the earthy wit, self-depreceation or SHOUTY BITS. If anything it adds an element of comfort and familiarity to her reboot of Feminism, which is a daunting and worthy subject in itself, using her haphazard borderline-disastrous life as a jump-off for investigations into boobs, weddings, puberty and smoking. A lot.
I don't agree with shoes though, but then I'm a bloke...(less)
I really wished I read this during the actual Tour, as it felt a bit flat a few weeks later.
Partly this is due to the scattergun structure of Boultin...moreI really wished I read this during the actual Tour, as it felt a bit flat a few weeks later.
Partly this is due to the scattergun structure of Boulting's Tour memoirs, skipping forward and backwards in time, and from subject to subject. It is an interesting and fairly amusing read, but I suspect I would've liked it more a month ago, as I would've read any old cycling bobbins then...(less)
I imagine had I reviewed this in my Goon-loving, Milligan-adoring mid-teens heyday it would've got five stars, no problems. The thing is twenty years...moreI imagine had I reviewed this in my Goon-loving, Milligan-adoring mid-teens heyday it would've got five stars, no problems. The thing is twenty years have passed since I was 16, and the times have a-changed.
Clearly I've got older, and I suppose we all grow out of certain phases of likes and dislikes. I'm not saying I've become more discerning or refined, more my tastes and horizons have expanded, all of which now make Puckoon markedly less "the funniest thing ever", which I thought in 1988.
More obviously, *any* jokes based on racial stereotypes just aren't funny anymore. Given Puckoon is entirely peopled by larger-than-life Englishmen, Irishmen, a Chinaman and one-eyed Lascar sailor, it has all the ingredients of one of Bernard Manning's favourite jokes. Although to be fair to Milligan (and avoiding the usual 'of his time' cliches), pretty much everybody gets it regardless of creed or colour, but if you remove the schoolboy sniggering, the whole thing turns into a surreal novel, and surreal isn't necessarily 'funny'.
Having said all of that, what amazed me most this time around were the things I took from re-reading that I'd never noticed before; the revealing insights into Milligan's character, the hints of depression in the foreward, the description of Dan's upbringing in Poona, and his dislike of modern architecture. No wonder Prince Charles liked him.
One from the left-field. A friend from college sent it to me on the basis that when she'd read it, she immediately thought of me. This was a brave cal...moreOne from the left-field. A friend from college sent it to me on the basis that when she'd read it, she immediately thought of me. This was a brave call as based on the cover, Dawn French's recommendation and the blurb, I would've NEVER have read it in a million years.
Luckily for me I felt duty-bound to read it, and I'm freaking glad I did. I basically spent eight days snorting with laughter in various parks around central London, on the tube and at home, recommending it to anybody who'll listen.
The litany of disasters that befall her family on holiday are simply incredible, and more so because they actually happened (allegedly). At times it's hard to keep reading due to a weird combination of sniggering and awe it's so horrific.
I think I've oversold it now, but if you don't believe me you can always borrow my copy...(less)
Handily left behind by Dr Robert Manwaring, who couldn't be cracked to take it back to Australia with him, I thought it'd make an ideal 'bridging' nov...moreHandily left behind by Dr Robert Manwaring, who couldn't be cracked to take it back to Australia with him, I thought it'd make an ideal 'bridging' novel betwixt The Leopard and whatever we're reading next for Book Club.
Sadly being a make-weight read was probably as good as it got. You have to wade through a lot of sub-sixth form sniggering and punning before you reach the end. And then, having taken the piss for 450-odd pages, the end is slightly disjointed as O'Farrell suddenly goes all preachy about New Labour's (admittedly excellent) record on social policies.
Manners, you'll love it. I'll pop it in the post(less)
The problem with holidaying with kids is, well the kids. There's no downtime for reading, and once you get them down you've only got a couple of hours...moreThe problem with holidaying with kids is, well the kids. There's no downtime for reading, and once you get them down you've only got a couple of hours to get the drinks in. Last year's reading list seems a long long time ago. In fact it would appear holiday books are becoming an irrelevance - which is *exactly* what this book is.
I found it on the shelf at the gite we were staying in, and - Andy Ripley's contribution aside - is terrible. Steer clear...(less)