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Open Book's presenter Mariella Frostrup

Between now and Christmas, Open Book is on a mission to dispel the gloom that's all around us by celebrating the enduring pleasure of classic comic writing. Mariella Frostrup and her guests will celebrate funny books, funny writers and the much under-rated virtues of laughter-inducing literature.

She'll be engaging the talents of some top writers and comedians to help uncover Open Book's Funniest Book, and asking listeners about the book they'd recommend to put a smile back on people's faces.

In the five Open Books leading up to Xmas, listeners can follow a mini history of funny humour, when Mariella, with the help of academic John Mullen, romps through centuries of comic writing.

In the programme this week is ex-Python Terry Jones on the enduring chortle power of Chaucer - raunchy, risque and strangely contemporary. Coming up are Fiona Shaw on Shakespeare, Jenny Uglow on the 18th century, Roy Hattersley on the 19th century and Ronald Harwood on the 20th century.

Mariella will also invite listeners to join her for Open Book's Funniest Book balloon debate, happening in the Radio Theatre (recorded 8 December and on Radio 4 in an Open Books special on 24 December). She'll be joined by Jo Brand, Tony Parsons, A L Kennedy and John Sessions amongst others as they try to convince the audience that their book is the most consistently rewarding funny read.

Their choices are:

And each week our panel will take it in turns to come onto the programme to tell us more about their funny writer and give some background to their lives. Too often maligned as a sub-standard genre, Open Book wants to elevate comic writing to its rightful place.

Fiona Couper is editor of Open Book and Bookclub

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