Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sometimes You Don't Get the Book You Wanted

So, a few years back* I picked up a book by Humphrey Carpenter I only now finally took time to have a look at: A GREAT SILLY GRIN: THE BRITISH SATIRE BOOM OF THE 1960s --a group biography of the type Carpenter did so well.**

I thought that since I like Peter Sellers (a brilliant but troubled man) on the one hand and Monty Python on the other this wd be a good way to bridge the gap, to see how the talent of the 1950s segued into that of the '60s and the legacy they left behind on the 70s. In particularly I wanted to learn how the Goon Show (whom I had heard much about but seen or heard v. little of their actual work) inspired those who followed.

To my disappointment, that's not what this book is about. Carpenter is primarily concerned with Alan Bennett, who I'd not even heard of, with some attention to Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and David Frost, none of whom I'm especially interested in. There are only passing references to Peter Sellers and his Goon Show partner Spike Milligan, about whom I know only enough to convince me of his importance.*** The Pythons come in only as respectful admirers of a generation later; Douglas Adams, a generation after that, escapes Carpenter's purview altogether.

So, I'll have to come back to this one at sometime down the line when I've gotten over the disappointment that's entirely my own fault: having imagined a book was one thing when it was really another.

Oh well. Even such cursory searching as I did on the internet to get a sense of what Milligan and the Goons were like, coincidently juxtaposed with my watching a documentary about the making of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, made me appreciate just how much of the famous Beatles' humour was their own take on Milligan et al. And I now see that Milligan's trademark was to take a situation, any situation, and within a few steps reduce it to anarchy. It's as if the world were constantly offering him straight lines and he cd never resist delivering the punchline that just popped into his head.

--John R.
--current reading: PAPAL LIES by Wills (finishing up); MYTHAGO WOOD (re-reading); two others.

*Kalamazoo 2012, it turns out


***for a sample of Milligan at work, give a listen to his short skit ("8 o'clock") with the third Goon, Harry Secombe:


David Bratman said...

You might have heard of Alan Bennett without realizing it if you've seen The Madness of King George, The History Boys, or The Lady in the Van, all of which he wrote. He's probably the leading British dramatist of his generation.

The word "1960s" is the key to the topic of the book. The Goons heyday was earlier. The satire boom was sparked off by Peter Cook opening a nightclub with satirists for performers, and it died out before Python, who eschewed satire because it dated quickly.

Even having a better idea what I was getting, I found Carpenter's a disappointing book because it was focused on the psychology of the comedians and not on their comedy, which is what I wanted to read about.

N.E. Brigand said...

Heh. As soon as I saw the book's title in your post, I assumed that its subject was Beyond the Fringe, and that the reply therefore must be by David.

Tom Stoppard might like to have a few words about who the leading British dramatist of his generation is -- or does it matter that he's Czech by birth? Others who might be suggested include Alan Ayckbourn, Caryl Churchill (picked by five of twenty polled playwrights in 2011 as their favorite*), the late Harold Pinter (who won the Nobel Prize), the late Dennis Potter, and perhaps Joe Orton, if he had lived past his thirties. Bennett is a fine choice for that honor, to be sure.