Book review: Yeah But No But: The Biography Of Matt Lucas and David Walliams, by Neil Simpson

The runaway success of Little Britain means you can flog just about anything from keyrings to beanie hats if it’s got Matt Lucas or David Walliams’ face on it.

Well, the same applies to books, and now journalist Neil Simpson has put together this glorified cut-and-paste job to cash in on the duo’s success. That the subjects of his other biographies include such heavyweights as Charlotte Church, Jade Goody and – up next – Billie Piper suggest he’s more interested in quickly dashing off books on people who’ve plenty of media coverage to regurgitate, rather than going for any depth.

That impression is quickly reinforced when you start reading. It doesn’t take much to work out that his research has pretty much been confined to the cuttings library. And with little, if any, contact with either the comedians or those who know them, you simply get a string of information that was second-hand when printed in the press, made third-hand here.

The prose is full of the sort of empty, speculative adjectives that don’t say anything, or offer any insight, they’re just garnish. Take, for instance, the ‘analysis’ of the fact that David Baddiel, Sacha Baron Cohen and Matt Lucas were all at Haberdashers’ Aske’s school at roughly the same time: ‘Amazing to think that a dozen or so years later that… having once competed in school sports days they would now be competing head to head for some of the most prestigious awards in the television as adults’.

The lack of any intimacy with the subject lends the book a bland PR veneer. ‘Matt and David both say that being able to raise money for charity is an unexpected benefit of sudden fame, as is the chance to raise the profile of good causes that might otherwise go unnoticed.’ After Walliams’ Channel swim, you can hardly deny the pair do their bit, but sodden sentences like that read like they’ve been written by the leader of their teenage fan club.

Every page is leaden with such bland platitudes. ‘The deadline [for series two of Little Britain] was approaching fast and expectations were high – but neither man was prepared to cut corners or rely on the goodwill of their audiences.’

This anesthetised approach is most vapid when it comes to moments in the duo’s life where informed insight should be. Lucas’s coming out to his mother in his early twenties is summed up with: ‘Diana Lucas didn’t respond the news with the casual equanimity of a comedy character. And while she soon accepted her son’s situation and has been a close friend and confidante to him ever since, she was initially shocked at his revelation.’ And that’s it – just a couple of sentences that singularly fail to convey any detail about what happened, nor any emotions felt. It’s the same throughout the book, anything that isn’t a bald fact or reprinted review of their TV appearance comes across as insincere.

On the plus side, Yeah But No But is pretty thorough in its coverage of Lucas and Walliams’ career, starting from their struggle on the comedy circuit of the Nineties, where Lucas grappled to make his bitter old thespian Sir Bernard Chumley connect with audiences. Comedians Michael Stansfield and Lloyd Pierce (who?) are quoted about how tough life on these lower rungs could be.

Sir Bernard turned up in Blur’s Country House video, at a handful of Edinburgh festivals (where Walliams provided the supporting cast) and even on Barrymore – but the character never really took off.

Lucas got his big, if hardly well-paid, break keeping scores as baby George Dawes on Shooting Stars. But then you already knew that. And that’s half the problem with this reheated biography, it tells you very little even the most casual follower of comedy wouldn’t already know. And £17.99 seems a big price to pay for being told it.

From the pair’s Rock Profiles, with their meagre £2,000-an-episode budget, through to the high-grossing Little Britain phenomenon, we get every spit of their career that ever generated press coverage, regardless of how interesting. Lucas once hosted the Daily Telegraph Travel Awards, don’t you know, and ‘the pair agreed that, as well as having an official website for their show and tour, they should have a separate one for their online shop as well.’ Well whoopee-do!

The book goes on to say that the reason for this store was to stop fans being ripped off by low-quality knock-offs. The irony seems lost on the author.

Yeah But No But by Neil Simpson is published by John Blake at £17.99. Click here to order it from Amazon for £10.79

Steve Bennett
July 27, 2006

Published: 11 Sep 2006

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