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Sunshine on Putty: The Golden Age of British Comedy from The Big Night Out to The Office [Paperback]

Ben Thompson
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 5 Jan 2004 --  

Book Description

5 Jan 2004

IF LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A WHOLE COUNTRY TAKES AN OVERDOSE ?

In the 1990s, British comedy underwent a renaissance – shows like The Fast Show, The Day Today, Shooting Stars, The League of Gentlemen, The Royle Family and The Office were hugely popular with critics and audiences alike. Just as politics, sport, art, literature and religion seemed to move towards light entertainment, the comedy on the nation's televisions not only offered a home to ideas and ideals of community which could no longer find one elsewhere, it also gave us a clearer picture of what was happening to our nation than any other form of artistic endeavour.

From Ricky Gervais' self-destructive love affair with dairy products to Steve Coogan's suicidal overtaking technique; from the secrets of Vic Reeves' woodshed, to the stains on Caroline Aherne's sofa; from Victor Meldrew's prophetic dream to Spike Milligan's final resting place, Ben Thompson clears away the soil to reveal the true twisted beauty of British comedy's psychic root system.

Sunshine On Putty is based on hundreds of interviews with the leading comedians of the era, as well as managers, agents, producers, directors, executives and TV personalities. It is the definitive history of a golden age in British show-business.

Includes full chapters on: VIC & BOB; EDDIE IZZARD; FRANK SKINNER; THE FAST SHOW; HARRY HILL; FATHER TED; ALAN PARTRIDGE; THE ROYLE FAMILY; BEN ELTON; ALI G; THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN; JOHNNY VEGAS; and THE OFFICE.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (5 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007135831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007135837
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,334,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

Seven Years Of Plenty (Victor Gollancz, 1998):
'Wonderful…bursts with lucid and intelligent enthusiasm…I think we can say that Ben Thompson has produced the most exciting, illuminating and funny book about pop music since…Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces' Guardian

Ways Of Hearing: A User's Guide To The Pop Psyche, From Elvis To Eminem (Orion 2001):
'It is wit, in its 18th-century sense: an acuity of judgement that makes you laugh' Guardian

About the Author

Ben Thompson made his first (and only) appearance as a stand-up comedian in the winter of 1986-7, reading a photocopied Ronnie Corbett monologue to an unreceptive student audience. He has subsequently written for The Face, GQ, The Independent, Mojo, NME, New Statesman & Society, Sight & Sound and the Saturday Telegraph Magazine, and (as comedy critic of The Independent On Sunday, from 1994-7) politely declined annual invitations to join the Perrier Award judging panel.


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a compelling and thought-provoking read 6 Feb 2004
Format:Paperback
This book attempts to trace the development of British comedy from the late eighties to the present day. To save space, it focuses its attention in a number of ways: there is a lot of coverage of TV performers and TV programmes and only the odd nod to the non-TV regulars on the live scene, usually with the sentiment that it is a terrible shame that we don't see more of so-and-so on the box. It also chooses in particular to look at the 'Post-Alternative' movement in British comedy, those comics who extend and/or react against the 1980s Alternative Comedy boom, in which many took their first fledgling flights.
Thompson is biased towards TV, seeing it in some ways as the culmination of a successful comedy career, which might upset fans of the live scene who feel this is the proper environment for comedy. But this is not a simplistic work, and there is some attempt made to, as I say, nod toward the importance of the world beyond the screen. On the other hand, the perspective on TV, both comedy and non-comedy, is illuminating; only half-joking, Thompson imagines figures such as Vic Reeves and programmes such as The Day Today as visionaries who pointed the way to the current era of docusoaps, reality TV and "I'm a celebrity get me out of here!".
The book is both informative and enjoyable, and manages to be even handed about a talented yet questionable entertainer such as Frank Skinner, while occasionally putting the boot in when it comes to worthy causes (See chapter on David Baddiel syndrome). Really not sure about the fairly arbitrary contention that the 2003 Office Christmas special marked the end of a era, though (how?).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity 10 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback
The British comedy scene of from the late eighties to the early years of this century is undeniably fertile subject matter for a book. Unfortunately, Ben Thompson has produced a work which while frequently enjoyable is deeply flawed.
For one thing, Thompson adopts an irritating spoof academic style (extensive footnotes and all) which veers uneasily between the present and past tense throughout. Thinking of buying this? I'd urge you to read at least the introduction first as you're in for a long haul (or more likely, a wasted purchase) if you cannot cope with Thompson's tiresome style.
Even worse, are the factual errors. To touch on Alan Partridge alone, no, the Christmas Special did not see Alan accidentally killing one of his guests. No, there were only two, not three series of I'm Alan Partridge. And, yes, I am sounding petty. But surely in a book citing Partridge as one of the ten best series of the decade, it's not unreasonable to expect Thompson to get his facts straight?
Despite these shortcomings, I still found this an engaging read, perhaps because I was so interested in the subject. Thompson's argument that the period covered by the book spawned a golden age of British comedy is a compelling one. The Fast Show, Father Ted, I'm Alan Partridge are all undeniably classics, even if Thompson's exclusion of Spaced from his "top ten" list seems bizarre.
Yet even this theory is undermined by Thompson's apparent conviction that Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are some sort of comedy geniuses. Even their mainstream flop Families At War - by any yardstick, a critical and commercial disaster - is heralded here as some sort of comedy triumph.
Events since the book's publication in 2004 have also weakened Thompson's hypothesis still further. If the golden age ended with the second series of The Office, how does Thompson explain the likes of The Thick of It, The IT Crowd and Peep Show?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Simply awful 26 Sep 2006
Format:Paperback
A man who doesn't wear his learning lightly, Ben Thompson has written one of the worst books I have ever read. I ploughed through it for the occassional nugget thrown up by his interviews with various comedians, but it was awfully hard going. If he refers to Henri Bergson once, he does it a thousand times, and what is with those sub-Pratchett footnotes, ostensibly offering information, but mainly attempts at humerous digressions which most definitely do not work. There is a good book in here, although it would only be around 50 pages long - the remainder of the 400-odd pages is taken up with the author's tedious, self aggrandising, meretricious nonsense. Not recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A book what I wrote. 17 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback
Years ago, I shared digs with a literature student called Paul. Every essay Paul wrote was created in the same way. He'd down a bottle of cheap claret in front of Neighbours, then disappear off to his box room with a second bottle and spontaneously pound the essay into his decrepit Remington. Two or three hours later, he'd emerge with his essay in hand - invariably a delightful confection of thoughts and observations, some obviously germaine to the topic under review... and others less so. Each essay was a work of art, interweaving seemingly unrelated strands of analysis until the final tapestry revealed itself. He got an easy first, and is now Really Quite Well Known.

Ben Thompson clearly sees himself as the same kind of writer... but unfortunately he's not. Get over the laboured wisecracks, though, and 'Sunshine On Putty's not half bad.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Infuriatingly biased third-rate essay style 13 Mar 2010
Format:Paperback
This has to be one of the most infuriating books I've ever read. I purchased it thinking I might get a 1990's equivalent of the excellent 'From Fringe to Flying Circus' by Roger Wilmut. Alas What I read was ruined by attempts by the author to appear intellectual and his ongoing attempts to portray Vic Reeves as an all-seeing comic genius. Reeves' career since this book was published seems to underline the fact that such assertions were more hopeful than accurate. Don't get me wrong Reeves and his buddy Bob can be very funny, but they have also peddled a fair amount of tosh, a stark fault of this book is the cringeworthy attempts to hold up their every step as inspired masterpiece, which it most of it clearly was not (even without hindsight). The authors own biases are clear, any pretence to give a balanced assesment of the comedy scene of this 'Golden age' are thrown out of the window in favour of bigging up Vic and a few other individuals, casting many others as mere bit players and ignoring, or worse dismissing yet more genuinely talented and influential comics.
Much of the book reads like a hamfisted second year media student's essay, so keen is the author to quote French philosophers and the like even when it adds little or nothing to the book, although it does scream "look at me, look at me! I'm so clever", the copious footnoting just reinforces this impression, and I really cringed for the author. I fought my way to the end of this book, it's a truly interesting subject and there is stuff of value in here, but it is ultimately ruined by both the style in which it is written and the lack of objectivity. If you think Vic Reeves is the Messiah then this is your Bible. If you want a balanced overview of Comedy around the 1990's and early 00's you'll have to look elsewhere.
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