There are absolutely no surprises in Peter Kay’s Christmas tour tie-in, which itself is no surprise. It’s a nicely presented but ultimately flimsy collection of straightforward observations, mild nostalgia and naff brand names – a cosy, familiar comedy for which there seems an almost bottomless market.
He even gets more mileage out of ‘garlic? bread?’ and its derivative ‘cheese? cake?’ as well as his malaprop-sprouting nan who’s progressed from t’internet to th’iPod. This will do nothing to allay the ‘money for old rope’ charge so often levelled at the Bolton comedian.
So it’s perfectly in character that his book is both slight of content and largely recycled. Firstly, there are just 208 pages, of which 87 have no text – just full-page illustrations – while the rest are typeset with big pictures and typographic tricks that mean sometimes you barely get a couple of sentences on the page.
Abandoning the autobiographical approach of his last two books – which is perhaps wise given the arrogant undertones of his last one, Saturday Night Peter – the content is more an embellished transcription of his stand-up. Most of the observations and routines in here come from his current Tour That Doesn’t Tour tour, from comments about Channel 4’s reality programming to the anecdote about his dad trapping his testicles in a sun lounger.
The topics may reflect the mundane realities of people’s day-to-day lives, but that’s no reason for the writing to be mundane, too, although it often is. When he tells you of a trip to the dentist, for example, it’s like a friend telling you... EXACTLY like a friend telling you - with few comic embellishments beyond saying it was like a scene from Marathon Man, or reacting to being told X-rays are a form of radiation: ‘Where are we? Chernobyl?!’
It has, of course, got a jolly tone, celebrating the unpretentious lower-middle-class life of the Eighties. The first time you hear Kay’s descriptions, they evoke fond memories, but the fact he’s been peddling the same lines for more than a decade robs it of much interest.
And it is the same material, too, not just similar. Here he is in The Book That's More Than Just a Book - Book talking about meeting a coach driver called Terry:
‘They’re a bugger for the rulebook, coach drivers. “We’ve got a chemical toilet on board but if you’re going to use it, no solids. And don’t even think about touching the emergency exit at the back – it’s not a toy. We had one young lad bounce out en route to Gladiators. He’s now fed through a straw, so think on.”’
Which sounds remarkably similar to this passage from his 2006 book The Sound Of Laughter about a school coach trip to France, in which the driver warned: ‘Don’t even think about using the toilet on board unless it’s an emergency, and even then, if you do, no solids. I don’t want any of you messing with the emergency exit at the back of the coach. I had one young lad fall out en route to Legoland and he’s now fed through a straw, so think on.’
Or consider this typically trademark-heavy paragraph about his school dinners: ‘My mum prescribed packed lunches for most of of my school life in an effort to keep my weight down. It probably would have worked if she hadn’t given me a daily dose of two spam sandwiches, a Munch Bunch yoghurt with a packet of Salt n Shake and a Highland toffee all neatly jammed inside a Miami Vice lunch box.’
And from The Sound Of Laughter: ‘I tried packed lunches for a few months but they weren’t for me. I never found two spam sandwiches and a Munch Bunch yoghurt very filling. There’s only so much you can cram into an A-Team lunch box.’ In that book he got his Highland toffee from the tuck shop.
But spotting what he’s actually used before and what simply feels like you’ve heard before is a fool’s errand. The whole book is familiar – which is probably exactly its appeal to the million-plus people who have seen Kay on tour. It’s basically a souvenir programme of that event, and for that reason alone will prove a popular, playing-it-safe Christmas gift. Peter Kay’s a brand now, not a comedian.