Political sketchwriting, like most humorous writing, is one of those things that looks easy, especially to people who would never be able to do it in a trillion years.
At any one time, though, there are only a couple of sketchwriters who are any good at all, and some of us find we move papers in order to read them. I realise now I must have been a very strange teenager to turn to Frank Johnson first every morning, and now I am an even stranger man in middle age reading Simon Hoggart every morning.
Send Up The Clowns (Guardian Books, £8.99) is a selection of his sketches since 2007, beginning with the long, agonising changeover from Blair to Brown: hard now to read about without a large glass of red wine to hand. But Hoggart has comic timing, a light touch and the good sense only to include pieces that show he was right all along. He also provides a running commentary, with extra gags and insights, so that the book reads as more than a ragbag of old hackery.
Indeed, it’s very nearly an instant history of interesting times. And it’s consistently, admirably funny. Hoggart it was who first noticed Gordon Brown’s inability to wave (eventually cured by intensive training, one assumes) and Blair’s propensity for the empty apology: ‘He has always been willing to admit being wrong, but will never tell us exactly what he was wrong about.’ Takes you back, doesn’t it, whether you want it to or not.
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