Books: Christmas books

Funny books

Poor old Santa. If he stopped to read some of the "funny" books he stuffs into stockings, he would jack in his annual delivery and reverse the reindeer into the North Pole recycling dump. Scraping around the bottom of the sack, he would find the stuff with "Humour" printed on the cover, in defiance of the Trade Descriptions Act.

That kind of dross will not detain us here. What a sneak preview into my own Xmas stocking reveals is a pile of Jokes for Anoraks - that is, humour for fans already on the wavelength of a particular cult. The only way to stamp out the worship of Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers would be a mass suicide of the Goon Show Preservation Society. If, like me, the voices of Eccles, Min and Major Bloodnok still ring in your ears, the selection of old scripts reprinted in The Goons: the story (Virgin, pounds 16.99) remain as insanely brilliant as when first transmitted on steam radio. Also featured in this wide-ranging - or, to be accurate, wide - hardback are reminiscences of how they met; and the original Bluebottle. Some of the yarns are so familiar that fans will be able to join in but what the hell, the page numbers are different. The whole is edited by Norma Farnes, who has been Spike's manager for over three decades.

If there is a Goon family tree, Harry Enfield can claim to be one of its twigs. Harry Enfield and His Humorous Chums (Penguin, pounds 9.99) reveals some of the nuts (yes) and bolts of his inspiration; it also outs the original of Tory Boy. Unlike the oeuvre of Jim Davidson, for example, Wayne and Waynetta Slob, Mr Cholmondley-Warner and Tim Nice But Dim work on the page even if you missed them on the box.

The same may be true of Homer, Maggie and Bart Simpson. Unfortunately The Simpsons (by Matt Groening, HarperCollins, pounds 14.99) cannot be used to test the theory because it confines itself to the highlights of each show, together with a list of references to the echoes of scenes in Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind. Presumably anoraks tick off every episode known to mankind as it eventually appears on BBC1. Still, the book does full justice to the family at Dysfunctional Avenue.

The Essex Files (Fourth Estate, pounds 5.99) is an example of stand-ups who fail to make the transition from stage to page. I'm not saying that this paperback, by Jeremy Dyson and Mark Gatiss of The League of Gentleman, is Jim Davidson-type terrible; but it did not shift my laughometer dial much. Some of the ideas look ingenious - the Wivenhoe Triangle, the Harlow Nightie, the Chingford Faeries - but they are, like the Brentwood bypass in a blizzard, hard going.

Yet that very slim volume is an easy run compared with Philosophy Football: Eleven Great Thinkers Play it Deep (Penguin, pounds 6.99) by Mark Perryman. Knowing nothing about soccer or philosophers, I found this fantasy soccer wheeze to be relentlessly offside (geddit?) and about as pleasurable as being stuck in a saloon bar between Roger Scruton and Jimmy Hill. Yet it shines in comparison with the badly-written cuttings- job entitled Christine Hamilton's Bumper Book of Battleaxes (Robson, pounds 14.95), a dire round-up of women whom, for the most part, you would not care to meet in a dark Ladies: Barbara Cartland, Ann Widdecombe, Fanny Cradock and Teresa Gorman. In the chapter on Shirley Porter, a mere two sentences are devoted to the scandal of council tenants being eased out to pack Westminster with Tory voters. But then the self-justifying chapter devoted to herself and Neil doesn't mention cash in brown envelopes either.

The Hamiltons pop up again, this time as "Top TV Double Act The Sleazies", in The Private Eye Annual (pounds 7.99) edited by Ian Hislop. I was going to say that this is lively, hilarious, cruel, topical and essential reading; but, having once been lunched by the Eye, any praise would look like merely repaying a favour. And one can't be too careful. Ask Neil Hamilton.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

    Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

    Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

    £150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

    Sheridan Maine: Portfolio Accountant

    £30,000 - £35,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a Management Accountant with...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor