Comic writer succeeds in the name game

David Nobbs, Suffolk Book League, May 8, Museum Street Methodist Church, Ipswich“In novels, every character has to have a suitable name from which everything follows”.

David Nobbs, Suffolk Book League, May 8, Museum Street Methodist Church, Ipswich

“In novels, every character has to have a suitable name from which everything follows”.

The same might be said of some novelists. One doesn't have to be a believer in predestination to feel that it is somehow fitting that an owner of the surname Nobbs should have become one of the most successful comic authors and scriptwriters of the last 40 years.

Yet David Nobbs' output is much more poignant and incisive than mere double entendres. During a witty and evenly paced talk to a fully engaged audience, he provided a chronological digest of his career in writing for comedians such as Frankie Howerd ('lovely company and very generous') and Ken Dodd ('who thought the funniest letter in the alphabet was K') as well as the difficult genesis of Reggie Perrin, probably his most enduring creation.


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A prototype Perrin appeared in a half hour play written for the BBC - which was rejected. “Just imagine how awful it would have been if the piece had been accepted! But you never get enough good ideas to abandon the ones you do have”.

Nobbs then went onto to embellish this character in the first Perrin book. He amusingly described the anxieties that afflict a novelist once a book has been published. On reading a review that described readers breaking out in embarassingly loud laughter on tube trains, Nobbs spied someone with a copy of the book and followed him all the way up the Northern Line to Edgware - even though he lived in West Hampstead. “And he didn't laugh once!”

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Perhaps inevitably given their impact, much of Nobbs' talk and the questions that followed focussed less on his books and more on the TV adaptations and original scripts for that medium. He noted how he had originally hoped for Ronnie Barker to take the eponymous role, but the producer was adamant that it had to be Leonard Rossiter. He was also candid about his TV failures - including The Sun Trap which he described as achieving the lowest ratings for a comedy series up to that point.

This was a genial event. The Suffolk Book League exists to bring local book lovers and authors of real standing together in a convivial atmosphere of appreciative learning. They certainly achieved their objectives on this night.

Paul Simon

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