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.