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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2012
The Secret Policeman's Balls have been a very successful collaboration between Amnesty International and some of Britain's best comedians for the past four decades. This book is an anthology of the most memorable moments from these shows. If you like comedy material you won't find a more comprehensive collection anywhere.

The book has been compiled and edited by comedy historian Graham McCann, who has an excellent track record in this area, and it features a great range of illustrations. It's an invaluable volume because it contains the transcripts of so many classic routines: including The Parrot sketch, the Four Yorkshiremen, the Cheese Shop, the Argument Clinic, Peter Cook's monologues about miners, asps and his brilliant parody of the Thorpe case summing up, Alan Bennett's dictation of a flirtatious telegram, Billy Connolly's account of two drunken Scots in Rome, Rowan Atkinson's schoolmaster routine, Victoria Wood's song 'I've Had It Up To Here With Men', several other Beyond the Fringe routines, Goodness Gracious Me's 'Going For An English,' some stand-up from Dame Edna, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman, Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle, Jack Whitehall and Russell Brand, and on and on they go.

I was also pleased to see included some lesser-known gems, such as Eleanor Bron's very witty monologues, John Cleese and Jonathan Miller's parody of two pompous philosophers (Words and Things), Michael Palin and Terry Jones's attempt to explain the rules of cricket, Bennett and Fortunes 'Men's Talk', Fry and Laurie's Hedge sketch and a very brief but (I thought) very funny observation by Eddie Izzard about Pavlov's experiments with cats! I am old enough to recall all of these Amnesty shows, dating back to the first in 1976 (the best one of all, as far as I'm concerned), and in my opinion the overall quality has gradually declined (especially once the shows moved to big stadiums and the sheer size of the event seemed take precedence over the quality of the performances), so I'm not surprised the 'meatiest' selections come in the earlier sections of the book, but there are still some delights to be enjoyed later on.

Obviously the selection is limited to an extent by what works best on the page, so routines that rely on visual gags and funny accents etc aren't included (I can recall seeing a few mime acts in the early shows, and also some typically anarchic routines by the likes of Ken Campbell and his troupe), but the collection still represents a unique compendium of great British (and, in the later sections, American) comedy, which ought to prove an invaluable reference book for students of comedy as well as a welcome present for fans who just want a memento of their favourite comedy moments.

(One caveat: if you object to bad language you'll probably be alarmed by some of the more recent routines, which tend to pepper their comedy with various expletives. So don't buy it for the vicar!)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2013
I don't know where to start - this is just a fabulous book. There's so many different ways to look at it ~ having written and published my own comedy sketches on Amazon I was keen to get hold of a collection of some of the best sketches out there - this book is just that ~ think of it as a compendium of the best sketches and comedians in Britain from the last 30 or 40 years, but it is more that that.

It is also the story of the Amnesty comedy benefit shows, now known as the Secret Policemen's Balls, the story (to a lesser degree) of Amnesty's work - and a snapshot of the changing styles, tastes and performers in British comedy.

It's just a fantastic book and I'm really enjoying reading it ~ of course some sketches work better than others - but most of it is the creme de la creme and a really great and important collection - not to mention the importance of the reason why the book or the shows exist in the first place.

If you have a conscience or a sense of humour it's hard to see how you could be disappointed by this book.

The book also made me aware of John Cleese's pivotal role in organising the shows (kudos to him) and made me more aware of the genius of Peter Cook :-)
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2012
This book is in my top 5 comedy anthologies. It's wonderfully designed - witty, exciting and refreshing.You have access to some of the funniest scripts - including the Dead Parrot Sketch - and Rowan Atkinson's school'master's roll-call. And if you're into more recent comedy, there's also extracts/interviews from Eddie Izzard and Russell Brand. What more could one ask for! Definitely going to buy this for my brother for Christmas. Enjoy all!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2012
I bought this book for my Dad's birthday but ended up reading the whole thing before I gave it to him! It's a beautifully-produced book - nice and weighty for the coffee table - and is a real delight to flick through, with just the right amount of pictures and background info. The range of comedians is incredible; everything from John Cleese to Jack Whitehall, via Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard and so many more. And the material is top-notch throughout. I honestly couldn't recommend this book enough if you're looking for a nice present for a comedy fan this Christmas.
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