Focus: Ah-hah! Welcome to the funny farm

One place in Britain breeds more comedy genuises than any other, says Charles Nevin Yorkshire? Don't make us laugh

'Ooh, mother! It's That Man Again! What a marvellous audience - when I first came on I thought I was in outpatients ... I knew it was the mother-in-law because the mice were throwing themselves on the traps ... I am playing the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. My arse! Ah-ha! What's black and white and eats like a horse? A zebra."

'Ooh, mother! It's That Man Again! What a marvellous audience - when I first came on I thought I was in outpatients ... I knew it was the mother-in-law because the mice were throwing themselves on the traps ... I am playing the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. My arse! Ah-ha! What's black and white and eats like a horse? A zebra."

All right, all right, I'll stop if you look at that lot over there. (Go on, match the gags and catchphrases to the faces. No? Answers below.) A glittering galaxy of comedic talent, you'll agree. All with one thing in common: all of them, ancient and modern, are from Lancashire (by which I mean the great and greater county which still survives despite all the administrative tinkering, and includes Liverpool, Manchester, Wigan, St Helens, Bolton, Rochdale and the rest).

The Lancashire which, far from being "grim" or "up there" - thank you, George Orwell (he was a laugh a minute, wasn't he?) and Monty Python (ditto) - is our national humour centre, and has been for a very long time. I wouldn't be so foolish as to claim that Shakespeare owes everything to his time in Lancashire as a tutor and strolling player, but it clearly did wonders for his comic timing. The Porter's Speech? The Rude Mechanicals? Pure Laurel and Morecambe. Even Charlie Chaplin had to go there to get his break, masquerading as one of The Eight Lancashire Lads, clog-dancing troupe. He did.

More writers? Richmal Crompton, creator of Just William, was from Bury. Lewis Carroll was born a rabbit run away, in Cheshire. And Dickens had relations in Preston, you know. Think, too, of the 40 years of comedy writing in Coronation Street, and of its stream of graduates, most recently including Paul Abbott, creator of Clocking Off and Shameless; of Eric Morecambe's incomparable gag man, Eddie Braben; of the collected works of Caroline Royle Family Aherne, Steve "Alan Partridge" Coogan and the wonderful Peter Kay and his Phoenix Nights and sell-out stand-up shows.

Why Lancashire? A J P Taylor from Birkdale thought it was literally something in the air: the prevailing south-east wind, a blurred and gentle breeze that produced a whimsical people, given to flights of fancy and romance. Did you know that more convertibles are sold in Manchester annually than in the whole of Spain? Taylor had also read Balzac's Le Lys dans la Vallée, in which the hero is seduced by a beautiful Lancastrian who tells him that Lancashire "is the county where women die of love". Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs! There can, though, be no denying that Lancashire is a place of exotic influence: ponder, for example, the Blackpool Tower, the county's splendid homage to M. Eiffel. I should also mention the fairly plausible theory that Napoleon III was inspired to rebuild Paris by Lord Street, Southport.

And then there's the Liverpool Effect. Liverpool, once the second city of the empire, more recently almost dead just beside the water, is now much revived, Europe's choice for its Capital of Culture in 2008; almost as shiny as Manchester, Lancashire's other viva-city, next to which London looks positively dowagerish. But there's an extra edge to Liverpool; it's to do with being a port, a giddy place of passing emotion; and something else besides. Where else would the young Adolf Hitler have spent a year staying with his Auntie Bridget? (I promise you: there's her diary, and strong circumstantial evidence.)

Liverpool was, and is, of course, the port and portal for Ireland, and there's no doubt that exposure to Celtic settlement and influences has shaped Lancashire attitudes. No doubt, too, that working for the industrial revolution presented the old choice between laughing and crying, and that Celtic Lancs and Scandinavian Yorks made different choices. Name me a truly great Yorkshire comic. Ernie Wise? Hmm. And?

Lancashire, though. Try these random happenings: Bull finds its way into china shop, Lancaster, 2003; Man ends 12-hour siege after police give in to his demand for an egg sandwich, Blackpool, 2003; First wedding in Britain on an allotment, Bury, 2004. Lord Lucan traced to Goa, 2003? No, it was a banjo-player from St Helens called Barry. Ah, yes, St Helens. I know people who ring its rugby league club just to listen to the town's favourite son, Johnny Vegas, giving the list of options. They do. Try it: 0870-756 5252. Remarkable.

All the same, living in the national centre for comic excellence does have its drawbacks. Dave Hadfield, the rugby league correspondent of this newspaper, in his fine book Up and Over writes: "As for humour, people in St Helens must surely have the same problem with Johnny Vegas as we have in Bolton with Peter Kay. On the one hand we take an almost proprietorial pride in the way he has tickled the nation's funny bone. On the other, and as the barman at my local puts it: 'Why should I pay good money to see him when I hear the same crap in here every night for nowt?'"

* Gags from, respectively: George Formby, Tommy Handley, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Eric Morecambe, The Royle Family by Craig Cash and Caroline Aherne, Steve Coogan, Peter Kay.

'Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love', by Charles Nevin (Mainstream, £12.99), is published tomorrow

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn