"Quite interesting for anyone who's interested in this sort of thing," is flagged on the front cover, a comment made by John Lloyd, creator of QI.
Quite interesting is a fair summary; though, were the title a headline for an advertisement, it could justifiably be taken to the Advertising Standards Authority for not living up to the standards of being legal, decent, honest and truthful. Or, if it does, it does so only by the squeak of its varnished dust jacket.
The book is heavily weighted towards the wit and wisdom of the post-war period. The early centuries, from a mention of Boccaccio's Decameron (1353) to the emergence of Grubb Street at the start of the seventeenth century are run through in 25 pages; the following 38 pages bring us to the start of the nineteenth century; and, of the remainder, 139 pages are devoted to the post-war period.
It is quite interesting. It could have been a lot more interesting.
Norman struggles to find a suitable tone of voice with which to deliver his material. He cannot resist drawing comparisons of ancient wits with their equivalents of today; except they are not of today but of yesterday, for instance, Will Kemp who toured Europe in the 1600s is 'an Elizabethan Norman Wisdom'; Richard Tarlton, 'England's first true star comedian' is 'a versatile amalgam of John Sessions and Freddie Starr'; while the ballad is equated with 'Richard Stilgoe's sideways look at the week's events'; all of which gives the book an oddly dated feel.
Sorry to report Closet Reading is quite interesting. No more.
Of more interest is this photograph of the The Artist as a Young Discus Thrower.
Yes, dear reader, this is moi, aged what - 14 months? - in Libya, hurling an ashtray that I still remember, a promotional item of a glass tray surrounded by a rubber Dunlop tyre. (Only a mother, etc…) That said, one can identify stylistic trends that were to turn me into a fashion victim. Note the buttoned, woolly trews and elegant Clarks' sandals tightly buckled over fat feet, sheathed in voguish white ankle socks.