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ALAN COREN


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The Further Bulletins of Idi Amin
Robson, London, 1975
price: 60p; 96 pages

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The Peanut Papers
Robson, London, 1977
price: 70p; 96 pages



The blurbs on the back:

The Further Bulletins of Idi Amin:
'One trouble wid de bes' seller business: no sooner you dishin' out one giant masterpiece to de gobblin' pubberlic, they comin' round yo' premises an' hammerin' on de door fo' de nex'. "Come on out, John Milton!" de mob yellin'. "We know yo' in there! We jus' finishin' de
Parachute Lost an' we twiddlin' de thums, wot about dis year's jumbo pome you lazy bum?"
'Natcherly, de same happenin' wid de present writer. Las' year, de astoundin' fust book hittin' de shops, an' befo' anyone know wot happenin' de mad fans carryin' de amazin' tomes off by de crate! De pubberlisher rushin' out four impressions in four munce, an' still de cravin' not satisfied. ... So here I sittin', shovin' de affairs o' state on one side, an' puttin' together a noo masterpiece coverin' de entire sweep o' mankind f'om A to G: de rise o' de Uganda fillum industry, de clash wid Henry Kissinger, de fearful Commonwealf Games cock-up, de amazin' correspondence wid Elizabeth Two, de pillergrimage to Mecca, de sex-an'-corruption Scandal o' de Year, de Irish Question, de end o' Nixon - it all here in de matchless shimmerin' prose! It a piece o' livin' history.
'It also de las' time I committin' de great brane to print. Dis positively de final appearance. If you flickin' through dis book an' wonderin' whether to cough up de ludicrously small ready or wait fo' de nex' one in de series - stop enter-tainin' de fond illusions. F'om dis moment on, de mitey lips fallin' silent. . . .
'Git it while you can!'

The Peanut Papers:
Bizarre though it seems, destiny, often responsible for the coupling of curious bedfellows, has once more done her stuff!
Or, more accurately, Alan Coren has once more done his.
Because, following his runaway best-selling success with his
Collected and Further Bulletins of President Idi Amin, Coren has now secured access to the private papers of another, very different, political colossus: he has managed to get his hands on the correspondence of President Carter's amazing momma, Miz Lillian Carter. Letters to Jimmy, letters to Rosalynn, letters to li'l Amy, letters to and about innumerable other members of this extraordinary Georgia clan that currently holds the Western world in thrall - men and women like Uncle Stinkweed Carter, Great Granpaw Faggot Carter, Brother Billy Carter, Cousin Nehemiah Honest Carter, Auntie Gutpump Carter, Great Auntie Eulalia Moonshine Carter, Uncle Snob Carter 111, Private Chickenhaid Carter, Auntie Filthy Carter, and many, many more. Truly, this is a family wittier than the Borgias, tougher than the Waughs, shorter than the Mitfords, scruffier than the Huxleys, and drunker than the Windsors! And, what's more, they're running the world.


opening lines:

The Further Bulletins of Idi Amin:
I damn glad to see where de Fleet Street hacks pickin' up de worl' scoop I givin' 'em considerin' de Uganda Fillum Industry!

The Peanut Papers:
Funny theng, life.
Theah ah em, jest a-settin' on thuh back stoop watchin thus tics hoppin on thus hawg an waitin foh some kine neighbuh tuh carry Billi across from thuh gas-station foh a bite tuh eat, when this heah feluh come down thuh road.


It pretty much goes without saying that Alan Coren is one of the best humorists in modern Britain. His columns in The Times and his contributions to The News Quiz are sharp as hell, and he's one of the last great exponents of a rich vein of middle-class middle-brow humour. (I know that in our present yoof-obsessed mediocracy this would be seen as an insult, but round these parts we still treasure tradition.)

However...

However, these books are truly terrible. Taken from Coren's columns in Punch, they comment on current events from the perspectives of Idi Amin, President of Uganda, and Lillian Carter, mother of US President Jimmy. They still turn up on a regular basis in second-hand shops, and my advice is: don't waste your time. Apart from anything else, who can be bothered to fight their way through Coren's attempts to capture an African or Georgian accent on paper? It's just not worth the effort. The various Private Eye columns that riff on Prime Ministers (from Mrs Wilson's Diary onwards) may have dated very rapidly, but at least they're still readable.

And then there's the question of the depiction of Idi Amin. The regime of Amin was amongst the most unpleasant and violent of the 20th Century, a fact that doesn't rule out the possibility of mockery, but Coren's version comes damn close to being a Minstrel caricature of a black man, belittling the atrocities and doing nothing to oppose the evil. I know this makes me sound desperately po-faced, but a tyrant of this stature deserves satire not chortling, and this stuff ain't satire: it falls far too comfortably into the prevailing mass-media treatment of Amin at the time. In case you've forgotten, he was seen a figure of fun, an ill-educated black buffoon who postured so absurdly that at one stage he claimed to be King of Scotland. Ho ho. For his tens of thousands of victims - many of whom had fled to Britain after the expulsion of the Asian minority from Uganda - the joke wasn't quite as funny.

And ultimately, that's the problem here. It isn't actually funny. Even without the political context, these aren't good jokes. And, to prove it, the Carter book isn't funny either.

Additional note: I'd like to say that, looking back, I think I may have been implying a criticism of Mr Coren here that isn't necessarily appropriate. When the Scotsman came to write Amin's obituary in August 2003, they quoted Coren on his depiction of the man:

I stopped writing about him. I did it when he was a buffoon. As more and more of his crimes became known, I chucked it in. I wonder myself if I ever found any of it funny, but it was rather different then. It was an optimistic time for Africa. The countries had got independence and were all doing fairly well.

Just wanted to make that point.


The Further Bulletins of Idi Amin
ARTISTIC MERIT: 1/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
1/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
1/5
The Peanut Papers
ARTISTIC MERIT: 1/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
1/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
1/5


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Arthur and the Great Detective
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