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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 30 November 2015

In Praise of Brian Glanville

In one way I owe Brian Glanville a great deal. Between the ages of 11 and 12 I more or less stopped reading. Up to then I had consumed the usual diet of Enid Blyton adventures and Anthony Buckeridge prep school stories. But then I quit, unless you consider that reading means the keen consumption, whenever I could get them,  of Commando and Battle Picture Library strip comic books. "This is where you get yours Fritz! Achtung! For you ze var is ofer Tommy". I've blogged before about the odd assumptions that secondary school teachers at that time made about our reading tastes. But Brian Glanville came to my rescue.

For reasons that are obscure to me, and are perhaps no more profound than my parent's recognition of my all consuming, and given my lack of talent, wildly unrealistic, fantasy that I was going to become a professional football player, I  was given a copy of Glanville's novel for teenage boys Goalkeepers are Different. I read it immediately. Twice. It is, though obviously I wouldn't have put it like that at the time,  a Bildungsroman and, crucially, it was about people living now, who weren't completely different from myself. Somehow it kick-started me back into a reading habit that led to John Wyndham and a love of science-fiction. OK , it wasn't Jane Austen, but it was better than nothing.

For 40 years I had more or less forgotten Brian Glanville. I knew he was considered one of the best journalists writing about football, but I had no idea he had written novels for adults. Then a few weeks ago I acquired a copy of his long out of print 1974 novel The Comic republished a decade or so ago in paperback  by Smaller Sky Books. It is actually a very fine piece of work, a first person narrative told from the point of view of an over the hill comic sitting in rehab after some kind of breakdown.

The ingredients are all pretty standard, pick and mix  the life story of Max Miller, Tony Hancock, Max Wall and tens of others, but it is done with style and sensitivity. And it pretty much gets to the heart of the love-hate relationship between the stand-up comedian, their audience, their family, the agents, and the promoters. In the end the protagonist finds some sort of redemption and insight into their own lonely predicament through taking on a straight role in regular theater. 

One man, in the spotlight, trying to make other people laugh by being something he is not; living and dying by the reaction to his last performance. There is something in it that in etiolated form is vaguely reminiscent of  being a university lecturer. 

Smaller Sky Books, by the way, seems to be owned by John Wain's son.

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