On Behalf Of The Committee by Tony Hannan
Scratching Shed, £25

The T&A’s late theatre correspondent, Peter Holdsworth, who died 15 years ago, would have loved this book.

The ‘truculent Bohemian’ from Bingley grew up with the culture of music hall, vaudeville and variety; during his career he saw and interviewed a good many of the stars in Tony Hannan’s book.

Tony used to be the T&A cartoonist whose World Of Walt was a popular feature of the paper from 1987 to 2002. Now he is co-director of Scratching Shed Publishing, which, in the last 18 months, has produced sports books, war memoirs and now this weighty social history of comedy with a Northern flavour.

On Behalf Of The Committee took him five years to research, compile and write. His devotion to the cause may have stemmed from his childhood experience of being bashed over the bonce by Leonard Rossiter on stage at the Alhambra in a production of A Christmas Carol (Tony was the young Scrooge).

While this book is not parochial, Tony does make a distinction between the humour of the North – Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumberland – and its Southern counterpart.

“If we are looking to sum up much southern-derived comedy, we might employ terms like gag-driven, witty, flamboyant, cocky, aggressive and overtly political... Northern comedy, in contrast, has tended to be defined by a perhaps more feminine emphasis on character and the minutiae of everyday domestic life. Never mind the big issues, the comics of the North have seemed to say, it is the smaller personal things that matter.”

Tony gives depth to this observation in passages about Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers of The Likely Lads, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen Pet. Writing about the two main Likely Lads characters, Terry Collier (James Bolam) and Bob Ferris (played by Bingley-born Rodney Bewes), he says: “And in Terry’s oft-stated antipathy to anything from outside the North-East – ‘I haven’t got much time for the Irish or the Welsh, and the Scots are worse than the Koreans.’ Bob: ‘And you never could stand southerners.’ Terry: ‘To tell you the truth, I don’t much like anyone outside this town and there aren’t many families down our street I can stand’ – The Likely Lads also dealt with the long-standing northern comedy concern of community acting as comfort blanket and prison.”

The Likely Lads will forever be associated with Newcastle, Charlie Williams with Barnsley, Johnnie Casson with Brighouse, Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights with Bolton and some of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads with Leeds.

Harder to place are Graham Fellows’s BBC Radio 4 creations, the ubiquitous broadcaster and singer/songwriter John Shuttleworth and his crafty manager/agent Ken Worthington. They sound Lancashire to my ears, but in fact Fellows is from Sheffield.

“The Shuttleworth family home is one marked by DIY, porcelain splash-backs and ping-pong. It is a place where a full-scale domestic crisis might be brought about by two simultaneously open cartons of margarine and where objects and situations which would dip beneath the radar of most sane individuals assume Biblical proportions,” writes Tony.

The small, personal details, mentioned earlier, are magnified to a ludicrous extent.

This book is more than a compendium of comedy; it is a thoughtful and comprehensive appreciation by a man whose cartoons exercised the chuckle muscles of T&A readers for 15 years.