Humour: the Enemy of Political Correctness?

“You couldn’t make it up” Eric Morecambe’s running gag in the ‘Morecambe and Wise’ TV series would have been seriously challenged last week with the latest media Political Correctness stories. The BBC announced that it was advertising for a weather forecaster who is disabled, which appears to be mirroring the plotline of a recent episode of their hilarious W1A series, thus strengthening the view of many of its employees that the series is not actually a parody of what might go on, but a documentary of what does. An even fiercer media battle arose about Transworld’s decision to tone down the cover of Jilly Cooper’s seminal blockbuster Riders 30 years after it was first published. The cover, ‘which originally had a man’s hand resting intimately on the seat of a woman’s “jodhpurs” (The Times), has now been moved an inch or two higher up to rest on the rider’s “hip”’. Alison Flood’s blog rightly notes that the man’s riding crop has however got bigger in the meantime. These latest examples of the timeless march onwards and upwards of Political Correctness since we first published James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories in 1994 cheered us no end as they have just coincided with two more reprints in the 21st year of its publication, confirming that laughter is the best medicine against its creeping invasion of daily life. Of course we were even more chuffed to find Laurie Penny, whose columns in the New Statesman so enliven its content, confessing that in 1994 when she was nine years old and sitting at the table of her small suburban kitchen in Sussex, slopping Frosties into her mouth, she was reading our book, Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, having been given it by friends as a joke. At that time, she points out that Politically Correct Bedtime Stories was her favourite book, and you could tell from the milk stains! Already at nine she had the awareness that in these stories

“Cinderella organises against low paid labour. Snow White is an activist for the rights of people of restricted growth. And the wolves are gentle, misunderstood carnivores who sometimes get to win. As I’m nine, I’ve never heard of political correctness before but it sounds good to me.”

and that’s just the start of a two-page essay that gives a very prescient account of the dangers and benefits of political awareness as practiced today, some of which are not funny at all! Her comments made us recall the difficult birth of book. In the USA where it originated, it was rescued from the slush pile of Macmillan by a young editor who not surprisingly has since become a powerful publisher and by now has sold 1 million copies there (we’re up to 400,000 with ours). Macmillan at the time were bought out by Simon & Schuster and in the changeover it was decided that book was a children’s book since the words ‘Bedtime Stories’ figured in the title. Though we don’t do children’s books, I couldn’t stop laughing reading it, and bought it immediately for our list. Though very popular with school kids, it is of course an adult book that is timeless. On its first publication, though it had some sniffy reviews from people such as David Baddiel and the ex-MP Austin Mitchell, who didn’t find it funny, but once Libby Purves headlined, ‘Witches have human feelings too’ for a long feature on it in The Times, commended it as

“…One of those works which cleave an author instantly to your heart…It is beautiful. It demolishes, in few but elegant words, a dozen kinds of silliness. It is better than I can possibly convey.”

it found its very large and receptive audience, which continues to grow as Political Correctness does. At the 20th anniversary of the publication the author added a new story about the ugly duckling that was judged on its personal merits and not physical appearance and at the present rate he will probably have to add another couple to the book on its 25th anniversary now that so many more will have qualified for Eric Morecambe’s immortal words.

from Souvenir’s Ernest Hecht

Layout 1

2014 cover of James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (ISBN:9780285640412).

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