by Mark Lewisohn

This second edition of the definitive guide to TV comedy comes with a raft of statistics: it has more than a million words in 960 pages, covering 3,000 more than shows screened over two-thirds of a century.

It's an apt way to describe a tome that is, itself, heavy on the detail. Want to know what time the first series of The Goodies was screened? How many episodes of the ninth most enduring British sitcom were made? When did the 1967 winner of the best comedy Emmy transfer from NBC to CBS, and how many of its 138 episodes were in black and white?

It's all here - around 10pm on Sundays, 109 episodes of Till Death Do Us Part, and Get Smart made the switch in 1969, and all but one were in colour.

For while the sitcom faces on the cover may all be familiar, from Basil Fawlty to Steptoe and Son and the now obligatory David Brent (much bigger, of course, than anyone else), the joy of this book is not the perennial favourties everyone knows, but the rediscovery of half-forgotten rarities.

An online version of the entire guide is published, free, as part of the BBC's comedy website, but browsing the internet is no substitute for browsing real pages, stumbling across gems of information you never knew you were seeking. You could happily lose yourself in this overwhelming stack of information.

Open the book at random, and there's a one-off Sherlock Holmes parody starring John Cleese and Willie Rushton, turn a few pages and there's another one-off, the one that launched Johnny Vegas's TV career in 1998.

If you prefer a more structured approach, the book is as meticulously indexed as you'd expect such a comprehensive guide to be, listing every performer, writer, director and producer ever to have worked in TV comedy, with potted CVs of each.

If this wealth of meticulous information were all this volume offered, it would be an incredibly useful addition to any comedy fans' bookshelf, but it's even more than that.

Each show comes with Mark Lewisohn's informative, opinionated summary, perfectly critiquing each series, putting them in historical context and offering more than a few sly digs at those that don't come up to scratch - all in the space of a few concise paragraphs. Even shows you'd never heard of are expertly explained, giving an instant impression of the style and the characters.

This is a genuine treasure trove for any fan of comedy. With a broadcasting gem - or oddity - on every page, it's perfect for dipping casually into, and with its depth of detail it's essential for anyone who wants reliable facts at their fingertips. A must-have.

Steve Bennett
November 25, 2003

Published: 22 Sep 2006

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