Introduction

A sketch from A Bit of Fry & Laurie

Stephen Hugh, my old china serving bowl, it seems that we're pretty much in the position of having to say "Here we are again."

Hugh Stephen, my old styrofoam cushion whose wedge-shape guarantees relief from the misery of lower back pain, you've never said a truer word.

Stephen We sit here, do we not, like coiled springs, gazing down the comedy tunnel ahead of us, settling our spikes into the starting blocks and cocking our ears to the starter's pistol. Before us, the hurdles and water-jumps of three and a half hours' worth of comedy material, the first forty minutes to be run in lanes - ecstasy, pain, triumph, disaster, who knows what awaits at the further end?

Hugh My hope is that, win or lose, at least there'll be a steaming mug of hot Lucozade, and maybe one of those aluminium blankets of the sort that help prevent athletes from not wearing aluminium blankets.

Stephen Hugh, as always, your words fill me with a ferocious desire to be somewhere else.

Hugh Well, violent reader, as I'm by way of being the person to the left of the dealer, it falls to me to welcome you to this book or ...

Stephen Yes?

Hugh ... this book or ... Hugh thinks for a moment, tilting his head to the light in a way that might remind the casual onlooker of a young Arthur Mullard. There's no other word for "book", really, is there?

Stephen Not one that need detain us for more than the fewest of moments, Hugh, no.

Hugh So welcome to this book. And let me begin by saying, don't read it straight away.

Stephen A strange piece of advice, old friend, and yet ...

Stephen pauses, tilting his head to the light in a way that might remind a young Arthur Mullard of an old Trevor Francis.

Hugh And yet?

Stephen And yet I've ridden too far with you, known you too long, been at your side in too many tight corners not to doubt that you have your reasons.

Hugh My reasons are almost painfully simple.

Stephen I suspected they might be.

Hugh This book is more than it appears.

Stephen You mean less, surely?

Hugh I mean more, dammit. Much, much more. It contains traps, conceits, windows on to other worlds, and almost no crosswords. I advise you to lay it on its side in the middle of your living-room and walk around it , sniffing, probing, prodding. But whatever you do ... NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON IT.

Stephen Even for a second.

Hugh Even, as you rightly point out, for a second.

Stephen I'd like to add something at this point.

Hugh Let me suggest seventeen and twelve.

Stephen (after some thought) Twenty-nine.

Hugh Good. But to return to the matter in hand. Books, I always like to shout, can be divided into two categ ...

Stephen I don't do dividing.

Hugh Ng ... into two categories. Books for reading and books for skimming, dipping and grazing.

Stephen That's beautiful. That is actually beautiful.

Hugh I think it fair to say that this book, our book, falls heavily and with a sickening thud, jarring the table and spilling some of that very nice medium dry sherry, into the second category.

Stephen Correct.

Hugh And we're proud of that. That's not to take anything away from the first categ ...

Stephen I don't do taking away either.

Hugh Hng ... I suppose what I'm trying to say is this ... here, let me show you ...

Hugh mimes what he is driving at ... rather well.

Stephen Exactly! That's absolutely right. That, above all, is the point we wanted to drive home, snog briefly in the porch and then take upstairs for a quick round of banal sex.

Hugh Banal sex?

Stephen Bexactly.

Hugh and Stephen break off for a moment, tilting a pair of Arthur Mullards towards the light in a way that reminds them of what has to be said next.

Hugh I've got it. There's the old warning song, isn't there?

Stephen Of course! That's it! How could you have been so stupid?

Hugh I don't know. I really don't.

Stephen Well get on with it. The ladies and gentlemen are waiting ...

Hugh It goes like this. One afternoon while I was out brushing my teeth, I met a man called Palfrey, who claimed to be our legal adviser from the legal department, specifically the section that deals with legal matters and issues pertaining to the whole business of the law. He legally advised me that I should advise you, the reader, if that is what you are, that the public performance of any of the material herewithcontained without the written permission of the authors or their duly appointed agents, shall not be deemed ...

There is a pause. Not so long as to arouse comment, but let's face it, we've all known shorter ones.

Stephen Not be deemed?

Hugh I don't know. I don't suppose I shall ever know what it will not be deemed.

Stephen You mean ... ?

Hugh Exactly. At that moment, a white Nissan Sunny, its tyres howling in protest, rounded the corner and careered towards Palfrey. I made to shout a warning, but, for some reasons I will never understand, the words froze in my throat. I could only stand and watch in horror as the bonnet of the car struck Palfrey behind the knees, sending the little lawyer's body arching through the air in a bizarre arabesque of death.

Stephen Did you call Nick Ross?

Hugh Of course. But for Palfrey, it was a lifetime too late.

Stephen What a ghastly story.

Hugh I know.

Stephen And so badly told.

Hugh You're quite right.

Stephen Well heigh ho. The time has come for us to take up a bottle of Sainsbury's cooking champagne and smash it over the bows of this book ...

Hugh ... then watch in triumph as it slithers down the ramp into the oily waters of the reader's shopping bag ...

Stephen Or back on to the shelf, as the case may be ...

Hugh Allowing them to maunder along to another of the million or so comedy books currently on sale ...

Stephen In whichever category you place yourself, may you find whatever it is you're looking for ...

Hugh And may it come up to expectations when you do ...

Stephen We love you ...

Hugh ... love you ...

Stephen ... love you ...

Hugh ... love you ...

Stephen and Hugh grow fainter and fainter, until they have to sit down.

Download Introduction as XML