Come Fly With Me 'Online Book'
For the last month or two I've been working on some web stuff to tie in with Come Fly With Me. In a way what I've been doing is writing a comedy spin-off book for the show. Only as a website and before the programme has started.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams are the main writers on their new series but my writing partner Andy Riley and I contributed some material so I had an idea of who was who. The brief the online team came up with was to write some spoof websites connected with the programme's characters. Matt and David were spending 71 hours a day in the make-up chair and Andy was finishing his own cartoon book (The Return Of The Bunny Suicides can be found in all good stockings) but I was available and eager.
We've made a duty-free catalogue, an online check-in, parodies of budget airline ads and all sorts of other stuff. Some very clever people at Ralph have designed it and coded it and we hope you like it.
Because the show starts on Christmas Day and what we've made is rather like an interactive comedy book, that got me thinking about them. I don't believe I can remember a Christmas Day where I wasn't given the latest Young Ones or Adam & Joe or Father Ted book. You know how Paul Daniels has a massive library of magic volumes that he obtained at great expense? Well I'm like that with funny books, except I got them from my parents or from charity shops and none of them are worth anything. But all the same I love them.
I've got Go To Bed With Jonathan Ross and Fist of Fun and all the Not The Nine O'Clock News ones and Lenny Henry's Well-Hard Paperback. Your favourite book as a child may have been The Hobbit or Harry Potter, mine was The Goodies Book Of Criminal Records. Most of my knowledge of comedy history has been gleaned from these books. Like did you know that the head of ITV, Peter Fincham, contributed to Janet Lives With Mel and Griff? Or that Green Wing creator Vicky Pile cut her teeth on the Three of A Kind book?
In Phil Norman's Closet Reading he traces the history of comedy books since medieval times but I think their present evolution came about around the publication of the Monty Python Big Red Book in 1971. Before that I think you've got funny stories and annuals - both great but not quite what I define as a comedy book which essentially is a load of bits and pieces jammed together with contrasting visual styles in a scrapbook format. Preferably there should be pictures of paper clips holding it together and preferably a tea ring printed on one of the pages.
I think I love them because, at their best, they're so dense with jokes and ideas. Certainly by the time of The Goodies File (1974) a 'found documents' format was hit upon which didn't need changing for Week Ending's The Cabinet Leaks (1985) and was still good enough for this year's excellent Thick Of It book The Missing DoSAC Files.
Andy and I always wanted to work on comedy books and pretty early on in our career we got our chance when we were asked write a couple of pieces for Goodbye, the Spitting Image royal comedy book special, whose commercial chances were scuppered by the fact it had the words 'free to shoplifters' on the cover and was banned by WH Smith.
A good comedy book must cost a fair bit to put together. They are I'm sure a far less lucrative format than comedians' autobiographies but I find them much more entertaining. Luckily they are still being produced (check out the lush new Armstrong and Miller hardback – we wrote a few pages) and may they continue to be made for as long as formats exist to be spun off from.
So enjoy all the Come Fly With Me web content. We've made quite a lot and we've scented it slightly with tangerine to give it that 'unwrapped on Christmas morning' feel. And once you've read it all you can print it off and take it to the Sue Ryder shop where someone like me will be waiting to buy it.
Come Fly With Me begins on Christmas Day at 10pm on BBC One