Book Review: Arthur Smith – My Name is Daphne Fairfax
Having over five hundred autobiographies on my office shelf of various sports stars, show-business personalities in particular comedians and the odd politician, there is always some book I come across which for some reason has passed me by. One such publication was Arthur Smith’s entitled ‘My name is Daphne Fairfax’ (2009) in reference to a gag Smith used to do on stage ‘My name is Arthur Smith … unless there’s anyone in from the Streatham tax office, in which case I am Daphne Fairfax’.
Arthur Smith is one of those honest, maverick comedians who is completely off the wall, unpredictable and always up for a challenge as well as a pint. This personality fitted in nicely when it came to the birth of ‘alternative comedy’ in the early eighties. Arthur with a relaxed, chatting and almost – could not care – attitude pleased many of these new comedy crowds, but not all as he admits in his book.
He has plenty of tales to tell about his comic colleagues of the time Alexi Sayle, Rik Myall, Tony Allen, Nick Hancock and the characters on the circuit, such as the late Malcom Hardee. He also discusses the Edinburgh festival, which he regularly attended and how stand-up comedy grew as one of the major art forms on the fringe. For those that remember Thatcher, yuppies and ‘The Young Ones’ this will be a ride down memory lane and how comedy arrived to where we are today.
A staunch socialist, Arthur was never afraid of making himself look a fool, building a reputation as a compere on the growing comedy circuit. This involved bringing on stage and off fellow comedians, a few growing into major names and others disappearing without trace, unlike Smith who had the tenacity to stand the many hurdles this business throws up.
In this compering role he was always spontaneous, the first time I saw him was at Jongleurs (Battersea) in 1984, where he challenged the audience with a bet. Pointing to the scaffold about 4 feet above his head, Arthur offered £10 if anyone who could climb on the supporting metal poles ‘from here to there’. Health & safety would have had a fit. After the interval some guy did get up and complete the task much to the amazement of Smith and cheers from the audience. Sure enough out came the tenner from Arthur’s pocket.
It was this unpredictability that some TV and radio chat / guest shows wanted him for or not as the case maybe. You never knew what was going to happen. Many see him only as a guest on TV’s ‘Grumpy Old Men’ not knowing Smith as an act. However, it is wrong to label him completely as a performer for Arthur has written some highly successful plays and books. Indeed, the ‘Memoir’ as he calls it on the front cover is very well written by his own hand, which through its pages shows his strong intellect mixed in with his eccentric madness.
His theatre work includes co-writing the highly successful ‘An Evening with Gary Lineker’ (1992) which reached the West End and was turned into a TV play. Smith describing its success as ‘… a confident child that neither sought nor needed nurturing or encouragement, smoothly hurdling all obstacles to arrive where it wished to be’. Books include ‘Trench Kiss’ ‘Pointless Hoax’ amongst others and it is indeed these writing successes which have probably meant him using the name Daphne Fairfax to the tax man more so than Arthur Smith comedian.
Smith ends his ‘Memoir’ in a typical unpredictable style by saying ‘If this book were three times longer I would have written about all the people below. I am naming them here to acknowledge their significance in my life and in the blatant hope that they will now buy the book and make me more money’.
The list that follows are names the public would not necessarily know, but it is a real list, among them more movers and shakers in the comedy world. This tickled me further with Smith’s irony, as so many artistes in the business purchase an autobiography of a colleague to see if they are mentioned.
To the point where if not, they actually asked when meeting – “Why wasn’t I in your book?”
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.