Hull Literature Festival 2001 8th - 18th November
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Writing Comedy - David Nobbs
Central Library
As reviewed by: Sherri Revell and Kate Brennan
Friday 16 November
     

Whilst most of Hull's under 35s were out clubbing on Friday night, I went to the central library. It's amazing what you can find in a library these days. In a large, brightly-lit room, lined, as libraries are wont to be, with books, I went looking for David Nobbs. Not one of his many, well-known books: 'A Bit of a Do', 'The Itinerant Lodger' or 'The Life and Times of Henry Pratt', but the man himself, most famous for his hit TV series: 'The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin'. Now I didn't get where I am today by sitting at one end of the reference section, peering round a pillar and trying, over the sounds of rumbling buses, raucous drunks and the odd ambulance, to glean some words of wisdom and wit. But maybe if I had have done, I would have been a lot further on than I am, because an audience with David Nobbs was a warm, breath of fresh air.

David Nobbs writes about society with a surreal humour, which never patronises his audience. I find it difficult to think of a latter day writer that achieves the same and creates such affection for his characters. I realised as in, 2001, I re-lived the mid 70's that a lot of the art of gentle irony has been lost. Today there is a feeling of 'well we had a look at the meaning of life, the universe and everything and frankly you can get more from the internet'. Maybe it's true but it also means a lot of the humour for which we British are so famous has gone too.

David Nobbs reinstated some of that for me on Friday with his easy manner, warmth and humour. He told of his struggle as a journalist in Sheffield and of his pride at seeing his first word in print. That word was 'Thieves'!. "Thieves broke into the home of Mrs….". The anecdotes sprinkled the evening liberally with laughs and there was much smiling and nodding from the small audience as though they felt they too had been there and this was something we were remembering together. That time with Les Dawson and the collapsing piano, the people he had worked with and called friends: Barry Cryer, John Cleese, Frankie Howerd, the 2 Ronnies, and that magical night at the Writers Guild dinner when Salmon Rushdie stood on the table to make a rousing speech about freedom. David had been there, but for one night only, so had we.

David Nobbs had led a varied career and his versatility as a scriptwriter, novelist and adaptor for TV came through on this evening. There is a great familiarity about the characters he creates, and tonight was no exception; you came away feeling as though you had shared in some of his life and experiences before realising that really, he had told us little and kept himself to himself. Even highly personal confessions like his blackouts at times of stress and the death of his mother which inspired him to write his latest novel 'Going Gently', revealed what had happened, but not how he felt about it. This was exactly the right tone; we were there to be entertained and the would be writers amongst us were hoping for inspiration and encouragement, not an article for 'Hello' magazine. We were not disappointed. David Nobbs' wise words to aspiring authors: 'Comedy can never beat real life' were illustrated with anecdotes from his experiences in his Herefordshire village home. The added anxiety of the Dentist Dinner Dances where every time you smiled someone said "Come and see me in ten days" inspired 'A Bit of a Do'. Then there was the ultimate for any struggling writer: 'When you receive a rejection it is not the end of the story' - Pebble Mill rejected 'The Rise & Fall of Reginald Perrin' so David turned it into a book, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For those of you who did not go to see David Nobbs you missed a treat. There are not many people who can make you feel you've just spent a cosy evening with your favourite, most entertaining uncle despite being perched on a not overly-comfortable seat under glaring lights, situated somewhere between 'Civil Engineering' and ' Aviation'.

Sherri Revell and Kate Brennan are very probably North Ferriby's best known pair of female comedy writers.


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