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Kettering 5 Review

Here's a question for you. When your darling girlfriend writes for a fanzine, and when you've already done a plug for the damn thing, how unbiased and independent can a review you write of it be? The answer is, of course, that you can't prove it at all - all I can say is that if anything I tend to be even more critical than usual when writing reviews of things like this to over-compensate. I just thought I'd acknowledge it, in case Private Eye ring up. But onto the 'zine.

It has to be said first off that there's just something lovely about fanzines. Yes, the web could give you exactly the same content, for free, with colour piccies, and with a bit of technology you can even read it on the bog. And yet there's still something great about holding paper in your hand. It even inspires me, as a bona fide web nerd, to want to do a fanzine of my own.

Kettering rose from the ashes of the Peter Cook Appreciation Society fanzine Publish & Bedazzled in 2003. Dedicated to "elderly British comedy", what you get for your £3.50 (including P&P) is a 48 page A5 booklet, stuffed with articles - no filler here. And a wide range of subject matter too - no chance of getting bored with the same old things here.

And very thoughtful articles they are, too. An excellent piece on Love Thy Neighbour by Matthew Coniam neither vilifies the series as racist drivel, as so many people are wont to do without having even watched it properly, nor pretends it is the best sitcom ever made with no dodgy or poor aspects whatsoever - instead, it, you know, actually looks at the series in a balanced way. You just know that an article like this wouldn't make a national newspaper or magazine - they would either be on the predictable racist side of the debate, or pretend to be really clever and radical and say it's a lost gem.

There's also a brilliant piece by Phil Norman - Tighten Your Wig: British Comedy Meets The Counterculture - which is infuriating only because there's a books worth of material condensed into seven pages. From Bedazzled to In God We Tru$t, this is just stuff that isn't written about anywhere else these days. Meanwhile, Formby & Son cheerfully revealed to me that who we know as George Formby is really just the son of, erm, George Formby, and it was the father who was the real genius. A whole history of a name who everyone has heard of, but very few people actually know about beyond a ukulele and window-cleaning.

I've only scratched the surface of the content in the 'zine here - there's also an excellent interview with Neil Innes, an article on Ever Decreasing Circles, a Ronnie Barker tribute, countless reviews, and much more - all of it a joy to read. The mag ends with Up Your Player, a roundup of upcoming DVD releases that is the perfect way to round the 'zine off.

I'm afraid to say, however, that fifth (and last) part of The Mental Health Act, a short story by Graeme Payne, passed me by completely. I'm sure I'm missing some essential point to the story, but I can't help but have found all five parts... well, boring is the only way I can describe it. Nonetheless, having a story in the magazine is a nice change of pace from all the articles and reviews, and it is to be applauded for that at least. As someone suggested recently, though, how about adding a letters page? It would certainly increase the sense of community around the magazine.

The great thing about the writing style of the magazine though is that you don't need to know a lot about the subject, and yet it doesn't patronise you. This is a very tricky thing to pull off - it's so easy to either assume too much knowledge from your audience, or spend two pages of your article explaining things that don't need to be explained. The writing here manages the perfect balance.

The only slightly irritating thing perhaps is a worrying tendancy to dismiss all modern comedy as rubbish. For instance, in the (excellent) piece on George Formby, we get asides like "From the perspective of 2006, when the biggest and most revered names in comedy and entertainment have literally no talent of any sort whatsoever". Hyberbole there, and rather unhelpful, despite it being a natural reaction to newspapers revering Green Wing as comedy genius, rather than flashy shite.

As for the design of the mag - nice. The simple one-colour cover looks good, only marred slightly by the ugly white border around the edge. The inside sticks to one font throughout, rather than falling into the awful trap of using too many; it's a rather unusual sans-serif font that you would think would get difficult to read after a while (serif fonts being normal for body text), but is actually fine. Black and white photos break up the text; if anything, these could be slightly bigger, but that's what happens when you stuff a magazine as full of content as Kettering does. And as you would expect with content as good as this, the spelling and general proof-reading is of a very high standard as well.

But the best thing you can say about Kettering is that, after reading it, there is loads of comedy I'd never even heard of before that I just have to hunt out and enjoy immediately. And surely that's the greatest compliment to the mag of all.

5 Stars

About this entry


And in my unbiased opinion, that was an excellent article.

By Tanya Jones
April 16, 2006 @ 10:29 am

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Thanks for all the nice comments, but in fairness to both mag and esteemed editor, I feel I should point out that it is not really Kettering that dismisses all modern comedy as such (though obviously by definition it doesn't cover it). I think you'll find that the culprit is yours truly every time. This is because I am a 32 year old fogey who really does believe that virtually everything in modern culture is the work of ill-disciplined pretenders and invariably hateful as well as merely inept. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, but I challenge you to find many in modern (that is, post-1983) British comedy. Vic Reeves: yes, okay; Chris Morris: talented, but flawed. Who or what else deserves our attention? Little Britain? The Fast Show? Kumars? Goodness Gracious Me? Smack the Pony? Green Wing? Nighty Night? Absolutely Fabulous? Blackadder? Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton, French and Saunders? Newman and Baddiel? Eddie Izzard or indeed any modern stand-up? I stand by my judgement of no talent of any sort whatsoever. Sometimes I think it's better to just ignore these characters than pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. But then another episode of Little Britain staggers on to the screen (every ten minutes or so) wheezing with the strain of no comic ideas and I think: why should they get away with this?
That's why I'm a grumpy old bastard and I'm truly sorry for tarring the entire magazine with my own private brush.

By matthew coniam
May 01, 2006 @ 2:41 pm

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Sorry, forgot to say that there is one great modern stand-up: Jerry Sadowitz. But that's yer lot, you know, it really is. Anyway, I'll go away now.

By Matthew Coniam
May 01, 2006 @ 2:44 pm

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I think you're a little unfair lumping Alexei Sayle into the same bracket as Little Britain and Green Wing, to be honest. If the alternative comics of the mid-80s aren't to your taste (which they patently aren't), fair enough, but personally I think Sayle was always a cut above the rest in the Comic Strip Presents... days, and nowadays is the only one of any of them (Mayall? French? Saunders? Peter "Churchill : The Hollywood Years" Richardson?) to have retained any class whatsoever.

Obviously I'm not going to sit here and rattle off the myriad great comedians and comedy programmes that I think have come along in the past twenty years, because you'll simply disagree with them, as is your prerogative. I just thought it interesting that Alexei was among the names you specifically picked out.

I also find it quite intriguing that Vic Reeves is a name you mention as an exception, since it strikes me that if you're not a fan of the "modern school" of comedians, he would be almost completely exemplary of said school. But hey ho.

By Seb
May 02, 2006 @ 12:16 pm

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He didn't mention Fry and Laurie, Colin's Sandwich or Absolutely either, but as you say, Seb, when you're that polarized...However, Matthew is correct to state that Kettering shouldn't be thought of as grumpy about 'modern' comedy (we should reflect that 1983 is 23 years ago now), as I certainly don't hold those views, and I don't think other contributors do either. I think Matthew's writing could run the risk of not being taken seriously for what it is if he plays the 'grumpy old man' card too much, though.

By Tanya Jones
May 02, 2006 @ 1:52 pm

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OPENING DISCLAIMER: Sorry this is so long and please feel free to not read it.
I don't normally go in for this kind of online debating business and really was daffy enough to not consider the possibility of combatant replies. Another symptom of old man-ism, of course. But yeah, you're all right - ultimately it does come down to taste, and yes there are always exceptions, including in so-called Golden eras. I don't actually think I'm wrong as such, but it doesn't bother me if people have and express different views.
And seeing as they happened to be the ones you mentioned, I'll state for the record that I do like Fry and Laurie in the abstract and A Bit of Fry and Laurie series one, I do also like Rik Mayall as it goes, and Colin's Sandwich I can't really remember but enjoyed at the time (does it have a following, then?). Yes, Alexei Sayle does strike me as among the worst of that particular generation, whose historical importance for totally changing the direction of British comedy was the sole reason for my nominating 1983 as a watershed (and a magazine that covers 'elderly' comedy is somewhat hobbled in its ability to reflect that it is 23 years ago now, though I'm happy to accept that it is). I certainly wasn't nominating it as the point BEFORE which comedy is by and large good. I know that I will lose whatever of your patience remains if I nominate Monty Python (and much less importantly TW3) as among the major wrong turns in comedy, so pretend I haven't. I never realised Absolutely was remembered at all, much less with affection.
Vic Reeves struck me as an incredibly gifted performer with a very fine tuned sense of the limits of comic absurdity and a joyousness seen nowhere else in his fellows. It would be silly for me to blame him for The Fast Show or Little Britain, just as Chris Morris could indirectly be blamed for Green Wing or Nighty Night. But it is the mark of a stagnant ideas pool when the endless recycling of just two superior originals constitutes almost the entirety of the national genre and is hailed on its every appearance as a step ahead.
There seems to me less diversity in ideas now, way, way too much use of the blandly absurd as a substitute for actual comic invention and a prevailing mean-spiritedness that is increasingly used not as an easy gloss but as the very heart of the enterprise. That at least is surely a statement not of opinion but of fact.
One might reasonably expect to like some things and not others at any given time. I don't like all old comedy in such a sweeping way as I dislike modern. Just because I like Hancock it doesn't follow that I like Charlie Drake. It might even follow that I probably do not. Nonetheless, I do think that if one finds oneself increasingly at odds with the VAST MAJORITY of a certain type of thing (and for the same few reasons in every case) it is fair to at least suggest that we have left the realm of indiscriminate value-judgement and are instead pointing to something tangible. These are fundamental, empirical objections.
So I suppose what I am saying is that I fundamentally object to most modern comedy on the grounds that I see in it constant proof that its creators are people who lack the skills of their trade, people with less discipline, invention, timing, wit and craftsmanship than their predecessors. People who are much more cynical and more childish, infinitely lazier, either contemptuous or happily ignorant of their potential audience and robotically reliant on a miniscule list of core ingredients and devices. (Is any body of so-called comedy more damned LETHARGIC, less concerned with its audience, than The Comic Strip Presents?) I believe these faults are fatal, and apparent moment by moment, scene by scene, joke by joke. I believe it is getting worse all the time, but is by and large tolerated because there are entire generations who have never known anything better, and those that did have gone so long they've forgotten what it looked like. Even so, I wouldn't mind betting that their are vast swathes of the public - coming no doubt from its more senior ranks, but so what? - who feel utterly alienated and repelled by the sheer banality, inanity and smallness of the whole sorry lot of it, and thus feel justified in dismissing it indiscriminately. Further, I think that the voice of this minority, when heard at all, is openly mocked and deliberately baited within the product itself.
My apology for whatever part I played in labelling kettering anti-modern was genuine: the remit of Kettering is to celebrate the past, which does not in itself depend upon even having a position on modernity, still less on its disclosure. I also do realise that, ultimately, this is just telly we're talking about and there are much more important things. And yet, a society's popular culture is as good an index as any of its general vitality, alas.
But I'm an easy-going guy so I'm happy to say I've probably got it all wrong and am simply over-rreacting and ranting. So thanks for reading this far, and sorry for getting it all wrong, over-reacting and ranting. This is definitely the last time I darken your towels. I'm just trying to pass the time waiting for the sequel to Johnny English.

By Matthew Coniam
May 03, 2006 @ 7:38 pm

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Thought I'd give some thoughts on moss' excellent review of the fanzine what I edits for grammatical purity, and Matthew's comments.

There certainly isn't any great master plan to make Kettering an anti-modern comedy mag, but at the same time I don't edit out writers' opinions if their well expressed and relevant to the article. As Matthew makes clear, he doesn't really like much that's happened in comedy in the last quarter of a century. Other writers like plenty of new stuff, as do I. What could be more dull than dictating a consistent editorial line to your contributors? Arguments and conflicting opinions are what it's all about.

That said, I might have to crack down on the anti-Little Britain comments that seem to stray into every other article. I think we've made the point by now.

As for the other stuff – the short story serial is a vestigial remain from a time when I planned for Kettering to have a lot more original comedy material in it. As it is, I'm not sure it really ever fitted with the tone of the mag and I don't think there'll be a follow up. The idea of a letters page seems quite popular.

The white margin on the cover is an economic thing. Regular readers will remember that the first two issues didn't have the border and it cost a bloody fortune. The whole cover design probably needs a bit of a re-think. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Thanks for saying nice things about the content. You seem to have picked up on the exact angle we're going for, so if we've succeeded then I'm happy.

The sans-serif font used in the main text is flux, font fans.

By Peter Gordon
May 09, 2006 @ 5:02 pm

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Glad you liked my Innes interview!

By Seaneen
July 26, 2006 @ 9:54 pm

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