New review of Where’s Sailor Jack? : ‘‘…romantic, poignant, and extremely funny, exactly what I want from a family saga.’ – Stephen Carver, Blot the Skrip and Jar It

Archives: Where’s Sailor Jack

Remainers or Brexiteers?

I’m working on a midquel to Where’s Sailor Jack, starting in 2015 and thus set in the years of the Brexit vote and its implementation, if indeed that actually happens. As such I can’t finish it until next year at the earliest, which is perhaps as well since progress in writing the book is proceeding no faster than the negotiations. I have introduced two new, female characters in the book; a mother, Lucy, in her forties and a daughter, Maddie, in her twenties. They are Brexiteer and Remainer respectively. Of course both Bob and Richard, the two heroes of the first book were both Remainers, having far too much to lose to wish to risk the opposite. Both also grew up in the aftermath of the second world war and hoped that the EU might have provided at least another generation of peace in Europe, even with the omission of Russia from its membership and the economic issues resulting from the folly of a single currency with Germany at the helm.
Maddie is a bisexual, seeing Europe as the future and its institutions as protection for her liberal values, despite the Eastern European countries being more socially conservative and the catholic traditions of the south. Lucy is a lapsed catholic, beginning to return to her former faith. The cultural changes from non-christian immigration still rankle with her. Bob, living in the Fylde, also hankers after a more homogeneous, although in his case an Anglican, past, without wishing to reverse any changes. Richard, in Hertfordshire, is more accepting of the multi-cultural society as it is a fact on the ground for him. They both blame the Tories and Cameron for imposing a referendum into a parliamentary system. And both have a dilemma now that the nation has voted to leave. Instinctively, their hackles rise when the remainers, BBC to the fore, hideously metropolitan in tone, describe the brexiteers as unknowledgeable and thick. They will never countenance any view that the metropolis is more progressive than the north-west. Also, since the vote, the devaluation of the pound has been good news for the north-west, the region growing faster than all others with a maufacturing recovery and housebuilding taking off. Bob had always argued that EU membership and a high value to the pound had mainly favoured the south-east and financial services. Richard had benefited more than most from that, but he is a Lancastrian to his core. As a result, both of them now feel that democracy demands that we leave. Bob actually wants that to be the case, Richard wouldn’t mind if we stuttered and stayed. One thing that unites them is agreeing with the recent group set up of intelligent people who now favour Brexit with a proper critique of the perplexing Treasury scenario analysis, brilliantly reported in The Sunday Times by Bryan Appleyard, another son of Lancashire. The negativity of the outcomes in these scenarios was guaranteed by the assumptions made. Bob and Richard, veterans of the business world, have seen many an analysis similarly skewed. They’ll make the most likely assumption, that those from the metropolitan élite are the the dickheads!

You cannot be serious…

Reviewers of my novel Where’s Sailor Jack refer to my northern, or even my Lancastrian, sense of humour. I don’t mind that. They must mean Lancastrian because Yorkies are not known for cracking a joke or a smile, the estimable Joe Root aside. But my county, which can lay claim to Frank Randle, Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Eric Morecambe, Eric Sykes, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson, Victoria Wood, Caroline Ahearn, Lee Mack and Peter Kay, along with countless others, clearly has something different going for it. I wish I really was that funny, or even be able to tell you what they have, hard as I’ll try.

It may well be that the southerner hasn’t had the benefits of the northerner’s disadvantages, as someone once said. I can’t full agree with that though. Life in the north is not grim, it’s friendly and cheerful. What happens in our lives is what matters to us. When people are asked what is meant by northern humour, the words most often used include warmth, sympathetic observation and self-deprecation. I can recall Arthur Askey towards the end of his life explaining how the lack of love for their characters put him off the Monty Python team. I’ve never liked the humour of embarrassment and feel similarly about The Office. My spoiler alert for any reader of this who hasn’t read my novel is that at no point will they find any misunderstandings which lead to shame-faced discomfort. I’ll have had the narrator yell out, “He’s behind you,” well before that point is reached. I’ve lived seventy years and have not found such awkward situations actually happening in real life, apart from when some self-anointed practical joker contrives one. The odd practical joke can be funny, but there aren’t many odd enough.

There are many southern comedians I enjoy. I used to love Ben Elton’s political rants, and Blackadder was brilliant. Yet the trite attempts at humour by some of the right-on guests of a programme like The News Quiz rarely make me laugh and the inane titterings of the audience are unthinkingly patronising. Even the self-deprecating southern stand-ups always seem to have to tell us how well and often they have satisfied their many lovers before starting on their patter. Lancastrian John Richardson has no need for that. I suppose to be fair, Ricky Gervais is excused from this criticism too. Bob Monkhouse was enormously funny with his quick fire quips in the Ted Ray Does the team think? tradition. His best, “People laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well they’re not laughing now,” is one of the great all-time jokes. But he couldn’t manage warmth. Londoner Micky Flanagan’s out-out routine is both observational and funny. He’s getting warmer but for me still falls at the needing to prove himself as Jack the Lad hurdle. Tim Vine’s one liners are fantastic, Michael McIntyre deserves his mega-stardom. But there’s not warmth oozing out of the screen.

There are exceptions. David Mitchell does manage self-deprecation very well, having had the good sense to team up with Lee Mack in Would I lie to you? Victoria Coren’s beautifully waspish comments are never unkind, and I think she has genuine affection for the likeable nerds on her clever quiz programme. Neither of them is Peter Kay though, leaving me splitting my sides as I fall off the couch. Warm, observational and self-deprecating, yes. But it’s that sense of the absurd that’s the clincher with him, such as when he went outside Jonathan Ross’s set and started pushing over The Gherkin building. Eric Morecambe had that visual comedic genius too.

And what about across the Atlantic? Bob Hope and Jack Benny certainly had better gags than Al Read in my youth. Today it’s a Canadian, Katherine Ryan, who I find their funniest. Canada counts as the north, doesn’t it?