Tag Archives: British humor

“Jeeves and the King of Clubs” by Ben Schott


This “new arrivals shelf” book has a subtitle. I usually dislike subtitles, but this one actually conveys useful information! “A Novel in Homage to PG Wodehouse”. Irresistible! I’ve read Wodehouse and watched any number of the humorous video adaptations shown on the BBC. Jeeves and the King of Clubs was so much fun to read. Schott’s website informed me that Jeeves was authorized by the Wodehouse estate.

Sometimes the language is a bit “cute”, and there’s anachronism here and there (“flash mob”? really?), but a good dose of Wooster and Jeeves was just what I needed this week. Highly recommended when you crave escape fiction and don’t want to stumble onto angst or gratuitous violence.

I looked up Ben Schott. Jeeves is his first novel, released in late 2018. His previous, non-fiction works were lists, an “almanac” and a “miscellany”. In 2013, he published Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition. I want it! Please keep writing, Ben Schott!


“Clinging to the Wreckage” by John Mortimer

A short time ago, on March 20, 2016, I reviewed the novel Quite Honestly by John Mortimer. Mortimer’s autobiography Clinging to the Wreckage: A Part of Life just turned up on my bookshelf unexpectedly. I didn’t know I owned it.

My initial reaction was that Mortimer came across better in fiction (particularly in his wonderful Rumpole of the Bailey stories and TV scripts) than in this autobiography. The chapters about his family growing up and his education in liberal British schools that we would call “private” were the best part of the book.

Readers who want to learn about England during and after World War II will especially enjoy Clinging to the Wreckage, as would those with an interest in modern British law and courts.

Clinging to the Wreckage was written when Mortimer was only 59. He lived to age 85, producing a second autobiographical volume in 1994 (Murderers and Other Friends: Another Part of Life) and a third in in 2000 (The Summer of a Dormouse: A Year of Growing Old Disgracefully). Both are available from Amazon used or on cassette tape. Considering the life he led, I hope to read these additional autobiographies even though I found parts of Clinging to the Wreckage to be rambling and somewhat disorganized.

I realized, glancing at a Wikipedia article, that a few years ago I read another of Mortimer’s novels, Summer’s Lease. I liked it, too. (Too bad I read it before I started blogging. It’s probably written up in a journal – somewhere…)

If Horace Rumpole was Mortimer’s only creation, he would be an author of considerable note, but he wrote so much more that he must surely be recognized as one of modern England’s most important authors. So much the better for all of us that he took neither England nor himself all that seriously.

“Quite Honestly” by John Mortimer

I listened to this book during a recent, daylong car trip. Nothing like a good novel to make the miles pass!

John Mortimer is listed in Wikipedia as “barrister, dramatist, screenwriter and author”. Quite Honestly is one of his last novels. In the first few chapters we meet the aristocratic young Lucy, who wants to “do good in the world” and ex-convict Terry. Lucy is supposed to help Terry “reintegrate” into society – find a job and, above all, avoid re-incarceration. The plot starts as a fairly standard rant against “doing good”, but becomes much more interesting when Lucy and Terry become a couple and Lucy takes to crime in order to “understand” Terry, who has told her that he was seeking thrills, not money, in his housebreaking ventures.

Eventually, Lucy is behind bars and Terry goes straight. The plot allows for lots of commentary on contemporary British culture. Most of it has to do with social class. Nothing is ever going to change the fact that Lucy (daughter of an Anglican bishop) and Terry (unknown father, alcoholic mother) come from different worlds.

I first encountered John Mortimer when his “Rumple of the Bailey” stories were televised on BBC. With Leo Kern as Horace Rumpole, the series ran to 44 episodes. British television humor at its best! If I am ever stuck in a body cast, I hope someone will show up with the whole Rumpole series to keep me entertained.

Both Mortimer and Kern are fine artists. Enjoy!

“So, Anyway…” by John Cleese

This autobiography was recommended to me by someone who is much better informed about comedy than I am! But we agree that John Cleese is one of the funniest people on the planet. His “Fawlty Towers” TV series was the best British humor I ever watched, and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is a classic film.

Cleese begins with some family history, then describes the various stages of his education. His family wanted him to move UP in the British class system, and undertook this by sending him to the best schools they could arrange. Ultimately, he went to Cambridge and studied law. To me, this was the most interesting part of the book. Oxbridge (as Cambridge and Oxford are called) is the pinnacle of the British educational system.

I’m fascinated by accounts of how young adults grow and learn. Cleese studied law but never practiced it, moving into comedy and comedy writing before he really finished his studies.

Cleese was part of the explosion of British satire that rocked the 1960s. Before that time, evidently NO ONE  mocked the English establishment. See my review of the autobiography of Tony Hendra (a friend of Cleese) in this blog dated January 21, 2014 (“Father Joe, the man who saved my soul”). Hendra’s life was changed by the inspired satire that Cambridge generated.

Cleese has a lively, informal style of writing and is fun to read. I hope he writes more, as he didn’t say much about “Fawlty Towers” and his movie making experiences.