Next time you put a stamp on an envelope, have a good look before you lick. It might be a “comedy great.” The Royal Mail has issued a set of 10 stamps featuring “comedy greats.” They comprise the Monty Python crew, Billy Connolly, Morecambe and Wise, Norman Wisdom, The Two Ronnies, French and Saunders, Victoria Wood, Lenny Henry, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and Spike Milligan.
Well, one can’t argue that those aren’t worthy selections. But, it would be interesting to know just how the selections were made. Is there nestling within the bowels of the Royal Mail headquarters a comedy committee? How did they choose the 10 greats to put on our letters? It’s a worthy enough cross section, but there are also notable absentees. I would argue that Caroline Aherne has been one of the most innovatively brilliant comedians of recent years. Spike Milligan is thankfully there as a tribute to the era of the Goons; but is there really no room for fellow Goon Peter Sellers, one of the greatest and most versatile comic talents of the 20th century? Fans of Tony Hancock might also want to lobby for his inclusion, and then there are those comedians long since dead and forgotten, or just fallen out of fashion. Benny Hill is in the latter group, and the perennially underrated Marty Feldman is in the former.
It’s also worth noting that the Royal Mail comedy greats are all from the television age. The heroes of music hall comedy, the stars of the silent films era such as Charlie Chaplin, no slouch in the comedy sakes, later troupers like the Crazy Gang and many others who were household names before the television age, don’t get a look-in.
And that’s what bothers me, not just about this list, but about so many “best of” and “greats” lists across all the art forms. Not only are they inevitably subjective, but they always tend to show that the compilers have alarmingly short memories and little sense of history. The top 10 always seem to be people who have either been on TV recently, or are always on if one scans the various repeats channels.
But while the lack of a historical perspective is lamentable, there’s little one can do about subjectivity in these lists. I don’t know that Billy Connolly, who is on the list, is necessarily funnier or more revered than Tommy Cooper, Rowan Atkinson and a dozen more who don’t make the list. But it’s the Royal Mail’s list and someone there clearly thinks that he is. Of course, this list is rather more important than most of the other “best of” and “greats” lists as it is not a here today gone tomorrow compilation. It has a national seal of approval, and the chosen comedians will be coming through your letterbox soon. Just remember as you gaze at the envelope that it only tells part of the story, and that while lists can evoke wonderful memories and make you smile, they are fundamentally frustrating and pernicious.
Jamie Dornan was wrong to ‘stalk’ a woman
Jamie Dornan starred as a serial killer of young women in the highly successful TV drama The Fall. Now, in an interview he has revealed that on one occasion he ‘stalked’ a woman to prepare for the role. Not for too long, he just followed her down the street for a while. Nevertheless, it is not a very edifying thing to do, and if the woman was aware of it, it could have been a frightening experience. It is also a little alarming that Dornan confesses in the interview that he found doing the stalking “exciting.” He said: “It felt kind of exciting, in a really sort of dirty way I’m sort of not proud of myself. But I do honestly think I learned something from it…” Method acting and meticulous preparation for a part can be useful; but in this case Dornan took it too far.
So, where are the arts in his election campaign?
In this lengthy general election campaign, the subject of the day doesn’t seem to vary much from day to day. The parties debate or swap insults over the NHS, the economy, tax, followed by tax, the economy and the NHS. But who knows, maybe next week there will be a day devoted to the arts and the parties’ policies for culture in this country. Then again, maybe not.