Back in the 1970s I learned there were two kinds of English humor: the acceptable norm of the upperclass public school wit and giggles epitomized by Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, or The Goon Squad, and the working-man’s laugh-out-loud inanity of Benny Hill and his ilk. Nick Hornby’s latest novel, Funny Girl, covers the period of British comedic entertainment where the posh university wits were being challenged by a more ecumenical approach to comedy.
The focus of Funny Girl is the BBC production Barbara (and Jim) which dared to represent a girl from the North as the heroine of the story (her husband was still very pukka and worked at Number 10). The novel seems to insist that at that time, British comedy was the purview of the well-educated—that the only good comedians were tempered on the playing fields at Eton—but what about Bottom? After all, Bottom was English … well, Athenian-English. Soon this fictional television comedy comes up against something entirely new for British television, Till Death Us Do Part (All In the Family in the USA version). And, of course, Lucille Ball is offered as an antidote to the high art of British comedy.