22 April 2015

Second searing parrotless shortlist shock

Yesterday the Society for Theatre Research announced the five titles shortlisted for the 2014 Theatre Book Prize.

It is my painful duty to inform you that, as was the case with the recent Sheridan Morley Prize nominations, Freddie Davies's autobiography Funny Bones (what I cowrote) is not among their number. Far more than a personal blow for Freddie and myself, this represents a serious setback for psittacine studies generally - and yes, I'm glad it was me saying that.

As a crumb of consolation no bigger than a pinch of Trill this page on the STR website has a list of all the books submitted for the prize, complete with cover images and links to publishers. 

Might this alert theatre historians and other interested parties to the existence of Funny Bones? I'd like to think so. I certainly believe there is a wide potential readership out there for a book which is, in effect, the history of a hundred years of working in the comedy trade. 

No, Freddie isn't that old - 77, in fact, a mere stripling compared to Ken Dodd - but the book interweaves his story with that of his grandfather, variety and revue comedian Jack Herbert.

Born in 1896, Jack was performing professionally as early as 1913 and his influence on modern comedy via Sid Field (his straight man in the 1920s) is a tale in itself, and one not covered elsewhere. When you watch Tony Hancock, who idolised Field, you are seeing aspects of Jack Herbert.

There hasn't been a newspaper review of Funny Bones, which is why the mention on the STR website is important. Nevertheless, those who have read it seem to like it a great deal. Writer and producer John Fisher, the man behind Channel 4's exemplary Heroes of Comedy series, has called Funny Bones "honest and illuminating about the practice of comedy" and "a cornerstone of its genre."

And those not automatically drawn to Freddie's Samuel Tweet character or who weren't around for his television heyday in the 60s and 70s may wish to note the comments of cultural historian Alwyn Turner, who hails Funny Bones as "a marvellous portrait of a working comedian" and concludes: "Even if you've never thought of yourself as much of a fan, you're still going to love one of the few great biographies of British comedy." 

I should also say that there is a substantial amount in the book about the making of the film Funny Bones.  Freddie wasn't just an actor in the film but intimately involved in the comedy aspect of its creation. Director Peter Chelsom was an 18 year old aspiring actor when Freddie gave him a job as ASM in a panto, and the backstage stories about Freddie's grandad helped inspire the film. Lee Evans' deadly "paper slap" routine (with the metal bar concealed in a rolled up newspaper) comes directly from Jack's act.


Links to these and other reviews, audio of interviews etc, here

Buy Freddie Davies's autobiography Funny Bones from amazon (paperback) or direct from Scratching Shed Publishing (paperback or limited edition hardback); extract available here.