This summer I have immersed myself in a selection of excellent comedy biographies, all of them highly recommended.
John Fisher’s study of Tony Hancock and Graham McCann’s Spike and Co are excellent companions. The first is a very detailed and well written biography of the comedy genius whilst McCann’s book casts the net wider to contain not only Hancock’s world, but also Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes and Johnny Speight. It follows the activities of Associated London Scripts, set up in the 1950s as a joint venture between Hancock (and later Steptoe and Son) writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and Milligan and Sykes.
There is inevitably some crossover with the Fisher book, and also with Humphrey Carpenter’s Milligan biography, although it still remains essential reading as a brilliant study of comedy writing in the 50s and 60s, with chapters dedicated to The Goon Show, Till Death Us Do Part and the long running Sykes. There’s also a look at the origins of Doctor Who, as Dalek Creator Terry Nation was also amongst the ranks of writers that ALS employed.
McCann has also written Bounder, the definitive biography of Terry-Thomas, and here explores the early days of television where T-T became arguably its first true comedy star with his show How Do You View? McCann’s writing reveals him as a huge fan and Bounder goes on to follow the successful film career and proves, if it needs to be done, that Terry-Thomas was one of cinema’s best comic actors. It’s urged me to revisit some of his classic films recently, such as School For Scoundrels and The Naked Truth, to reassure myself that McCann’s view of him is – as T-T would say – bang on!
Also on the bedside table is The Life and Death of Peter Sellers by Roger Lewis which may emerge for me as the King of all comedy biographies. A review will follow shortly.