Nina Stibbe, David Nicholls, Bridget Christie and others disclose the books that attained them laugh the most

At Freddies by Penelope Fitzgerald

Chosen by David Nicholls

So many of my early reading storages imply hysterical laughter. There was Adrian Mole, of course, and Douglas Adamss The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the Monty Python works, Woody Allens Without Feathers, Geoffrey Willanss How to Be Topp, Evelyn Waughs Decline and Fall. Books were prized for being offending or entertaining or, even better, both, and the promise that a notebook would construct the reader laugh out loud seemed only plausible. Why not? It happened all the time.

Less so now perhaps, but a journal that consistently does me laugh is Penelope Fitzgeralds At Freddies, a comic masterpiece from 1982 that is actually should be better known. Its set in the early 60 s, in a ramshackle, deteriorating theatre school in Covent Garden, full of terrifyingly precocious child performers and incompetent, downtrodden educators, all presided over by the infamous Frieda Freddie Wentworth. Manipulative, enigmatic, sharp-tongued, opinionated, shes an extraordinary comic initiation; imagine Miss Jean Brodie giving full play to Alastair Sim.

But if Freddie reigns both institution and romance, theres also a wonderful supporting shoot, and I particularly like Pierce Carroll, the incompetent educator, well intentioned but only incapable of seeing his class. Theres Boney Lewis, a charming, drunken actor famed for his Napoleon, an off-stage cameo from Nol Coward and a great comic set piece implying a hysterically ostentatious production processes King John, full of mad serve and mime.

If the idea of a theatre academy humor reverberates worryingly bewitching, Fitzgerald sidesteps nostalgium and predictability. Shes clear-eyed about the prospects of the underdog and brilliant at capturing the desperation that lurks behind the smiles and swagger of those on the lower calls has anyone written about downfall so well? Theres a bracing bitterness to the mood( No emotion can be as pure as the hatred you feel for small children, says Boney ), and melancholy more, a sense that catastrophe is never far away; in this regard, the final sheet is fairly memorable. Fitzgerald is rightly celebrated for the largest, late historical romances such as The Blue Flower, but she is also a first-class, underrated comic, even when the comedy is played against a backbeat of sadness.

David NichollssUs issued by Hodder.
Nina Stibbes Love, Nina issued by Penguin.
David Lodges The Man Who Wouldnt Get Up and Other Stories issued by Vintage.
Deborah Moggachs Something to Hide is published by Vintage.
John OFarrells Theres Exclusively Two David Beckhams is published by Black Swan.
The worse countries around the world goes, the more we need to shriek Marina Lewycka. Portrait: Leon Edler Bridget Christies A Book for Her issued by Arrow.
Sebastian Faulkss Where My Heart Employed to Beat is published by Vintage.
Jenny Colgans Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery is published by Sphere.
Philip Ardaghs The Grunts on the Run is published by Nosy Crow.
Marina Lewyckas The Lubetkin Legacy is published by Fig Tree.
Shazia Mirzas 2017 comedy tour starts in Bath on 19 January.
Lissa Evanss Crooked Heart is published by Black Swan.

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