Books: Grins and groans. Funny business.

The Spectator Book of Wit, Humour, and Mischief

Edited by

Marcus Berkman (Little, Brown)

Not getting out much? Life a million shades of grey? Despair not: a dose of this rich stew of Spectator delights is the cure. Readers unacquainted with the brilliant cast of columnists who make this topical British weekly magazine a feast of character and controversy are in for a treat. And auld acquaintance will rejoice.

Subscriptions to imported publications are prohibitive these days, but at least devotees can source online pleasure. And the true devotees think it well worthwhile to shell out a crore rupees occasionally for the actual magazine, opinions, cartoons, provocations and all.

The aptly titled magnum of selections from 1990 onwards, compiled by the publication’s former pop music columnist Marcus Berkmann (Pop? In a serious publication? Disgraceful!) is absolutely delicious. Pray forgive the foodie vocabulary: the parlous state of South African journalism has left us starved of articulacy, of savouring the absurdities of life, and speaking without fear of the PC police. Spectator tolerates all manner of opinion.

The recent hysteria surrounding Helen Zille’s self-evident statement about the possible existence of non-wicked whites would baffle the Spectator mind. Is it true, or is it not? That’s the question. Truth is the criterion. Speccie writers present a menu of extraordinary range: intelligent, coherent, passionate, funny, often outrageous. Never boring. 

From the cool reason of the editorials, to the moving and amusing antics of Jeremy Clarke’s “Low Life” column; from the murderously pointed political invective of Rod Liddle to the surreal wonders of the “Dear Mary” advice column; and the unexpectedly perceptive diary notes of actress Joan Collins. Even the “Readers’ Letters” make for satisfying reading.

“Dear Mary” is a legendary purveyor of wisdom, some of which might, just possibly, represent rebukes to idiocy. A worried reader writes to inquire about the right thing to do when, hampered by a champagne glass, it becomes necessary to applaud. She advises that gentlemen unbutton the bottom three buttons on your shirt. “You will find that slapping the stomach will produce a very realistic clapping noise at the same time as helping to loosen up the proceedings”.

Rod Liddle, in a memorably scathing review of hapless Ed Milliband’s TV grilling by Jeremy Paxman, accuses Milliband of repeatedly ducking questions with “You can’t expect me to answer that.”

“The questions weren’t impertinent, personal, or irrelevant. Paxo didn’t ask him if he masturbated regularly.” Liddle was infuriated by the fact that a politician with high ambition should evade legitimate questions, and snarled: “The nerve we have, expecting to be told stuff, expecting politicians to engage”. Would that the South African voter could set Liddle  on our own politicians, as they dodge and dive in the face of the mildest media inquiries.

In a mad world, Spectator fights for good sense, righteous protest, and as much laughter as we can squeeze out of the chaos.

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