Nina Stibbe, David Nicholls, Bridget Christie and others uncover the books that induced them laugh the most

At Freddies by Penelope Fitzgerald

Chosen by David Nicholls

So many of my early construe remembrances concern hysterical laughter. There was Adrian Mole, of course, and Douglas Adamss The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the Monty Python volumes, Woody Allens Without Feathers, Geoffrey Willanss How to Be Topp, Evelyn Waughs Decline and Fall. Books were prized for being appalling or amusing or, even better, both, and the promise that a work would manufacture the reader laugh out loud seemed only probable. Why not? It happened all the time.

Less so now perhaps, but a journal that consistently builds 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 shabby, deteriorating stagecoach school in Covent Garden, full of terrifyingly precocious child performers and inept, downtrodden schoolteachers, all presided over by the notorious Frieda Freddie Wentworth. Manipulative, mysterious, sharp-tongued, opinionated, shes an extraordinary comic initiation; imagine Miss Jean Brodie giving full play to Alastair Sim.

But if Freddie dominates both school and novel, theres likewise a wonderful corroborating shed, and I especially like Pierce Carroll, the inept instructor, well intentioned but exclusively incapable of restraining his class. Theres Boney Lewis, a charming, drunken performer famed for his Napoleon, an off-stage cameo from Nol Coward and a great comic set piece concerning a hysterically ostentatious production processes King John, full of mad performance and mime.

If the idea of a theatre academy comedy announces worryingly bewitching, Fitzgerald dodges schmaltz and predictability. Shes clear-eyed about their chances of the underdog and bright at captivating the desperation that hides behind the smiles and bravado of those on the lower resounds has anyone written about outage so well? Theres a poise bitterness to the humor( No feeling can be as pure as the abhorrence you feel for small children, says Boney ), and melancholy very, a sense that adversity is never far away; in this respect, the final sheet is fairly unforgettable. Fitzgerald is rightly celebrated for the largest, late historical fictions such as The Blue Flower, but she is also a first-class, underrated comic, even when the humor 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 is published by Vintage.
Deborah Moggachs Something to Hide is published by Vintage.
John OFarrells Theres Only Two David Beckhams issued by Black Swan.
The worse countries around the world get, the more there is a requirement chortle Marina Lewycka. Illustration: Leon Edler Bridget Christies A Book for Her is published by Arrow.
Sebastian Faulkss Where My Heart Expended to Beat issued by Vintage.
Jenny Colgans Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery is published by Sphere.
Philip Ardaghs The Grunt on the Run issued by Nosy Crow.
Marina Lewyckas The Lubetkin Legacy issued 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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