We all enjoyed Linda Smith's brilliant work on the News Quiz, so I was pleased to come across this collection in a charity shop a few weeks ago. It's a collection of her pieces from stand-up dates, radio plays and contributions to shows like the News Quiz and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. It's difficult to go from hearing these words performed to seeing them written down (this collection is also available as a CD, which would perhaps be preferable) because all sorts of elements get lost: the intonation, the audience and - above all - the timing. This is particularly problematic for the stand-up routines, which lose a lot of their force when transcribed to the page, even with the (laughs) included.
In their commentary on contemporary issues, her early pieces have, of course, also become somewhat dated. For example, it's a little hard to remember that it was once possible to make jokes about Princess Diana ("So thick and yet so thin"), and a lot of people will be unable to appreciate her fury at Neil Kinnock's squandering of the election (though this produces one of her best lines: "Neil Kinnock has announced today the guidelines for resisting the Poll Tax... you pay it, but when you pay it, you give that Town Hall clerk *such* a look.")
The funniest parts, I thought, were towards the end, especially in the selection from the News Quiz, in which she's allowed to use all her gifts of allusion and imagery. Reading these, you can almost hear her voice in your head (e.g. "Tony Blair. He's never had the populist touch. He's like the Geography teacher at the school disco. Everyone wants him to leave so they can start enjoying themselves."). And I was delighted to find, on p236, Simon Hoggart's memory of the best moment from that show - namely, the hysterical exchange between him, Sandi Toksvig, Alan Coren and Linda about National Condom Week. Like the death of JFK, nobody who heard that will ever forget where they were when it happened.