The author of eleven novels such as Headlong and the Booker-longlisted Skios, and many plays including Noises Off, Michael Frayn is also a prolific newspaper columnist. Dating from 1962 to 1994, this selection of his pieces deploys his characteristic wit, razor-sharp observation and offbeat comedy on a range of topics from bureaucratic absurdity to pretentious productions of Shakespeare. They are arranged in alphabetical order ‘because I couldn’t think of any more rational system’. Slightly off-mint.
Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives
Limiting himself to one fact per personage, Frank Key presents an abbreviated, yet thoroughly engrossing biographical dictionary. Between Lascelles Abercrombie (an English poet challenged to a duel by Ezra Pound) and the Rumanian spirit medium Eleonore Zugun, we learn that Michael Tippett called his fridge ‘Bernard Levin’, that Alfred Hitchcock was terrified of eggs, and Robert Southey, otherwise a poet, once invited William and Mary Wordsworth to dinner and served roast owl.
Through It All I've Always Laughed
(An Autobiography of Myself)
Well known from the Radio 4 comedy, Steve Delaney's cult character, Count Arthur Strong, is an ageing entertainer from Doncaster with a deluded sense of his own importance and a talent for mangling words. This memoir, presented as a typewritten script with the great man's own hand-written annotations, is a satire of British show business autobiographies, with stories of childhood struggles, national service, early theatrical breaks and celebrity anecdotes accompanied by the author’s nonsensical thoughts and opinions. Off-mint.
The Essential Guide to Correct Behaviour and Etiquette
Philip Howard delighted Times readers with his 'Modern Times' column on contemporary etiquette, fielding questions of table manners, family feuds and sharing taxis, the dress code for kilt-wearers at a Pakistani wedding (daytime tie, with an emergency bow tie in your sporran) and what to do if it rains at Glyndebourne ('Outdoor opera in June brings out the ancestral fortitude of the British character'). This compilation presents readers' questions on 'etiket' and Howard's witty, informative and often hilarious replies.
'You're nearly old enough to be dead, aren't you, Grandma?' 'If teachers keep asking you questions, does that mean they don't know much?' Compiled by former school inspector Gervase Phinn, this collection of children's disarming observations and impossible-to-answer questions proves Phinn’s point that 'on the whole' children are an amazing source of amusement and wonder.
The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm
Welcome to the bizarre and wonderful world of Professor Branestawm, a man who hasn't time to think about normal things, his head being too full of brilliant ideas and wild inventions which never seem to work out quite as planned. First published in 1933 and illustrated by W Heath Robinson, the tales of Branestawm and his cock-eyed ingenuity have lost none of their charm. This is a reprint of his very first adventures.
I Think I Can See Where You're Going Wrong
And Other Wise and Witty Comments from Guardian Readers
Gathered from the daily crop of some 47,000 online comments on the Guardian website, this compilation ranges between heartfelt opinion and daft puns. It is unfailingly entertaining as Guardian readers air their views 'below the line' on everything from the pronunciation of quinoa to theatre-going: 'I can't resist a good nap during a visit to the theatre. Comfy seats, warmth, people talking in the background – lovely.'
'You're nearly old enough to be dead, aren't you, Grandma?' ' If teachers keep asking you questions, does that mean they don't know much?' Compiled by former school inspector Gervase Phinn, these best-selling collections of children's disarming observations and impossible-to-answer questions prove Phinn's point that 'on the whole', children are an amazing source of amusement and wonder.
Manners for Schoolboys
This manual of social etiquette was published in 1829 to help young gentlemen in their 'acquisition of a polite deportment'. Combining timeless advice with insights into the society of Georgian Britain, it instructs boys on the correct behaviour towards superiors, equals and inferiors, both at home and at school, so that they can steer a course of 'modest dignity' between 'sheepish bashfulness and obtrusive boldness'.
Off The Leash
It's a Dog's Life
By the creator of the Fred cartoons, Off the Leash introduces the world of Puppy School lessons (emotional manipulation, messy drinking etc), the nightly canine invasion of Bob and Sue's bed, the lazy dogs' basket and dogs generally getting one over on the humans. Along with the cartoons, Fawcett has included some pencil drawings reflecting the special relationships between dogs and their owners.
The jacket assures us that ‘No dogs were harmed in the making of this book’, but some of them do look a bit apprehensive, some are loving it and the bull terrier is just humouring the odd photographer lady with the Frisbees and the wind machine (therein lies the trick). We dare you not to smile. No jacket.
Or Terribly Gloomy
Ludwig Bechstein (1801–1860), chiefly remembered for his collections of fairytales and legends, also wrote this poem about an endearingly curmudgeonly fellow who is only made gloomier by clouds, sunshine, midges, dancing and birdsong. This new translation is by Julia Donaldson, with full-page illustrations for each line by Axel Scheffler, her collaborator on The Gruffalo. At the end of the book the full translation is printed facing the German original.
Trick Riding for Amateurs
With the aid of a collection of instructional photographs of soberly dressed Edwardian gentleman and lady cyclists, this book demonstrates a series of stunts of varying difficulty, from a stationary balance to riding backwards seated on the handlebars. An amusing curiosity for today's army of cycling enthusiasts, the book is a facsimile edition of a volume first published in 1901.
Tails from the Booth
What happens when you put dogs in a photobooth? When Lynn Terry decided to experiment she was delighted with the resulting images, which beautifully brought out their canine sitters' personalities. Her book is a compilation of these joyous and quirky photographs, interspersed with the story of the project and even a few tips to help you capture your own pets striking a pose on camera.
What Will They Think Of Next...?
Unpublished Letters to The Daily Telegraph
The sixth annual selection of Telegraph readers' epistolary gems features evergreen complaints about such tribulations as the state of BBC English and the menace of garden snails, as well as whimsical reflections on the news, from David Beckham's buttons and President Hollande's romantic difficulties to Russia's stand-off with Ukraine.
The New Dictionary of Things There Should Be Words For
What should we call 'something that looks like minced beef but isn't'? Minsk, of course! 'Luxuriant nostril hairs'? Utrillas! Three decades after Douglas Adams and QI creator John Lloyd compiled The Meaning of Liff, here is a new collection of more than 900 familiar things that have hitherto remained unnamed, an oversight now corrected by recycling the appellations of places near and far.
This handsome collection of work by the veteran Political Cartoonist of The Times reproduces more than 100 savagely satirical sketches covering tumultuous events from autumn 2013 to the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, and includes the rise of Nigel Farage and Nicola Sturgeon; the fall of Ed Miliband (drawn to resemble the eccentric inventor Wallace from Wallace and Gromit); crises in Greece, Syria and the NHS; and a heartfelt response to the Charlie Hebdo attack.
The Not-So-Rude Ride of Lady Godiva
and Other Morsels of Misinformation from the History Books
Was there a real Lady Godiva? Yes. Did she ride through Coventry in the nude to persuade her husband to lower taxes? Probably not. David Haviland sorts fact from fiction in this entertaining compilation of historical trivia ranging from the Trojan War, the Delphic oracle and Julius Caesar to Sandringham's clocks, Kim Jong-Il's record-breaking round of golf – and even modern wireless technology. Felt-tip mark on lower trimmed edge.
Sign Language 2
More Travels in Unfortunate English
In these days when everyone carries a camera with them on their phone, few opportunities are missed by eagle-eyed tourists to record humorously mangled translations, unwitting ironies and double entendres on public signs, menus, shop fronts and foreign grocery products. Among the gems in this collection are the impressive premises of Penang's 'Chiap Tatt Enterprise' and the luxury coach run by Barcelona's 'Chavi Tours'.
The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century
A literary parodist whose weekly Digested Read column in the Guardian enjoys a cult following, John Crace has compiled his own list of 100 classic novels, from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) to JM Coetzee's Disgrace (1999). The whole western literary canon is fair game for Crace's short, but mercilessly accurate parodies – not even EM Forster, Proust, James Joyce and William Faulkner escape.
The Theory & Practice of Gamesmanship
The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating
Stephen Potter's classic 1947 manual is the origin of the term 'gamesmanship' and humorously describes how to employ dubious, but not illegal, tactics to distract, disturb and generally put off your opponent in any given sporting situation. This nicely produced edition preserves the vintage feel of the original and the Machiavellian ploys are as relevant to the cunning game-player today as ever.
The Great Writers' Garden Companion
In this indispensable horticultural manual, twelve great authors share their handy gardening tips. Brett Easton Ellis tells you how to remove a sucker, Mary Shelley creates new life from a vine, Alan Bennett reflects on caring for Heather, while Ibsen unearths some dark family secrets. Each spirited, note-perfect literary pastiche is illustrated in the style of a famous artist, from Klimt to Hockney.
My Sunday Best
101 Curious Contemplations on Modern Life
Diners taking photographs of their food in restaurants; the top ten books that people say they've read, but haven't; hiding pieces of paper with your PIN number in the teapot... Oliver Pritchett's reflections on the trials and tribulations of modern life are arranged by themes including animals, eating out, family life and fantasy life. With cartoons by Matt.
The Banned List
A Manifesto Against Jargon and Cliche
John Rentoul's polemical essay, which highlights annoyingly pretentious and hackneyed phrases, might make uncomfortable reading for those who exhibit a tendency to issue cast-iron guarantees while pulling out all the stops and proactively strategizing going forward. This is followed by the full 'banned list' of such objectionable locutions, which Rentoul has diligently compiled to save his fellow writers from annoying their readers.
As a Dodo
The Obituaries You'd Really Like to See
Death comes to us all, but this time he's swapped his scythe for laughing gas. Based on a blog, this collection of mock obituaries casts a satirical eye over the world of celebrity, sport, politics and society to mourn the passing of everything from the Eurovision Song Contest to the VHS tape, Tony Blair and Britney Spears's hair, while the simple cup of coffee will be buried at St Arbuck's Church of the Decaf Grande Skinny Mochalattefrappaespressocino.
Welcome to 'Just a Minute!'
A Celebration of Britain's Best-Loved Radio Comedy
Alongside regular players of the Radio 4 panel game Just a Minute such as Clement Freud, Peter Jones, Sheila Hancock, Kenneth Williams, Paul Merton and Jenny Eclair, Nicholas Parsons has appeared in every edition as chairman or (in the early days) panellist. In this celebration he recalls some of the funniest exchanges through the years, remembers the well-known personalities who have played the game and discusses how the show has evolved over its nearly 50-year history.
An Utterly Exasperated History of Modern Britain
Or...60 Years of Making the Same Stupid Mistakes as Always
In the abridged audio version of his bestselling book, the follow-up to An Utterly Impartial History of Britain, John O'Farrell brings us bang up to date and defuses disaster with comedy as he surveys the bizarre events, ridiculous characters and stupid decisions that have shaped Britain since 1945. Read by the author.
Mrs Weber's Omnibus
The award-winning illustrator and graphic novelist Posy Simmonds may be best known for Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery, which have both been made into films starring Gemma Arterton. But her earlier work is equally worthy of celebration. This heavyweight anthology collects her long-running strip that ran in the Guardian throughout the 1980s about the middle-class, mid-life woes of three 1950s school friends, as they try to remain true to the ideals of the 1960s.
The Secret Diaries of Almost Everyone
This collection of revelatory, though utterly made-up, accounts from The Times includes new introductions from the author, whose satire skewers luminaries like Ed Balls, David Cameron, EL James, Prince Harry, Vladimir Putin, Oprah Winfrey – and Jeremy Clarkson ('Wednesday: A day in the Top Gear studio with Hammond and the other one, brainstorming new ways to be mean about the Germans').
They Should Have Asked My Husband
Pam Ayres has been delighting the world with her very personal form of poetry since the mid-1970s. This set features some of her best-loved poems and stories, as performed in a one-woman show at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, including 'Yes I'll Marry You My Dear' and 'Oh, I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth'.
The Customer's Always Wrong
Stupid Things Shoppers Say
Will cinemas pause films while you pop to the toilet? Can you get a refund after cutting the legs off new jeans? Is pouring butter into your computer a good idea? This book contains some of the most bizarre queries and complaints that staff have faced from the kind of customer who spends two frustrating days 'rewinding' a DVD or is upset when an omelette smells of eggs.
Let's Compromise - and Say I'm Right...
Calman on Love and Relationships
'So - how was it for you?' 'How was what?' Mel Calman (1931-1994) was a prolific cartoonist whose work was published in several newspapers, and is immediately recognizable for both its minimalist graphic style and the succinct captions that skewer our pomposity and self-delusion. This compilation of his wry reflections on love, marriage, divorce and the battle of the sexes is edited by his daughter, and has a foreword by Michael Palin.
Has the World Gone Completely Mad...?
Unpublished Letters to The Daily Telegraph
A vintage year for readers' letters, 2015 offered up Poldark on TV (an excess of chest hair), Fifty Shades of Grey, Nicola Sturgeon vs the English, a royal birth and, to cap it all, a general election starring Labour's pink bus and David Cameron with his shirt sleeves rolled up – but not much gets past a Telegraph reader: '... the fact he has no breast pocket shows that he is truly a toff.'
What It Is, and How to Retain it.
'Much dignity is given by long and sweeping skirts,' advises the anonymous author of this 1873 guide – and, perhaps more surprisingly, 'A little gin may be used instead of eau de Cologne.' With illustrative quotation from classical authors and English poetry, she identifies the features most admired in feminine beauty and gives tips for Victorian ladies wishing to improve their daily beauty regime.
In this extraordinary vision of the feline world we encounter a 'circus cat secretly rehearsing Hamlet', an 'unusually repulsive cat startled by a gesture of affection' and 'the exhausted Persian cat contemplating the advantages of monogamy'... three of the weird and wonderful creatures captured by Searle's inimitable illustrative style and vivid imagination.
The Retronaut Guide to Keeping Pets
The Retronaut website (www.retronaut.com) unearths quirky archive photography and presents unusual and surprising views of the past. This set of images focuses on pets and other animals in the collection, ranging from a horse playing the tuba in the 1920s and elephants playing cricket in the 1930s to a cow travelling on a Paris bus in the 1960s and a goose riding a bicycle in the 1980s.
Or, The Happy Land!
Author and illustrator Mary Frances Ames (1853-1929) produced several quirkily patriotic books at the turn of the 20th century. This example, first published in 1902, consists of a series of short humorous verses facing colour illustrations that celebrate such symbols of Englishness as cricket and golf, the Lord Mayor and First Sea-Lord, roast beef, ping-pong and bank holidays.
The Graphic Novel
For decades the political cartoonist Steve Bell (b.1951) has contributed the bitingly satirical, and frequently scatalogical, strip If... to The Guardian – his depiction of John Major wearing his underpants outside of his trousers was unforgettable, no matter how hard you might wish otherwise. This collection of strips published between June 2010 and April 2014, during which the coalition government proved a rich source of material, includes Bell's commentary to provide context and a selection of his daily editorial cartoons.
Manners for Millionaires
Aimed at readers who still have fewer than 17 spare bedrooms, this satirical guide from 1900 explains the best ways to progress through the more elevated ranks of late-Victorian society. Its tips range from money-making schemes for paupers to the easiest means for the rich to rid themselves of those cumbersome spare millions. The book is surreally illustrated with woodcuts depicting (alleged) British fish.
Letters of Not
In his compendium of 'undistinguished correspondence from the annals of history', Dale Shaw assembles the fictional letters, and in one case, sticky notes, of the great and good on off-days. We have a letter with directions from Cormac McCarthy; St Francis gets an eviction order from his landlord for keeping pets; and James Joyce posts an 'out of office' notice – 'Now for the weekending and the weekening of the daze and the dillydallying...'.
Conkers for Goalposts
To preserve the memory of the 1970s' best-loved playground games, this not entirely serious guide gathers together the rules, techniques and etiquette of such classic pastimes as Fighting, Football and French Skipping, Conkers, Para-Shorting and GBH Biking. With a foreword by 'sporting legend' Barry Wardrobe and spoof adverts for such bodies as the British Association of Schoolboy Hooligans (BASH), it is an affectionate celebration of childhood past.
For all those who trembled at the prospect of chopped-off thumbs, catching fire or being dipped in ink, here's an exquisite refinement to Hoffman's cautionary tales: Struwwelpeter in Latin. This very special edition reproduces Hoffmann's original drawings – like Edward Lear, he preferred his own amateurish efforts to refined illustrations – with Eduard Bornemann's 1956 Latin translation. This is a German edition and the translator's notes (in a separate booklet) are in German.
Comic, Curious and Quirky
News Stories from Centuries Past
Rona Levin, of the British Library's Newspaper Archive, has tracked down an eclectic variety of stories, ranging in date from 1729 to 1930, which cover dastardly crimes, sexual scandals, animal antics and medical oddities. Some (such as the lady offended by seeing footballers' knees) reveal profound shifts in British society, while others (horsemeat fraud and doctors' poor handwriting) remind us that many things haven't changed.