Where the book is riveting is in the moments when the pair stop joking long enough to analyse the secret of their success. They are brilliant on the effects of National Service on their careers. “For two years we witnessed the whole spectrum of the British social class system. Down the line we would mine it, expose it, and rejoice in its absurdities and idiosyncrasies,” writes Clement. They are also fascinating on the effects of closed spaces on comedy.
In this easygoing opus, with its randomly dropped anecdotes, no grudges are aired or scores settled. The strongest they get is to tell us that Rodney Bewes enjoyed his fame too much and ‘went through a silly period’. Brigit Forsyth, in fact, tried to strangle him, forever regretting that ‘I didn’t have the strength to finish him off’. It is always the same when actors are given too much power. Bill Cosby, Will Smith, Kirk Douglas and Benicio del Toro (‘My character wouldn’t park there’) have tried Clement’s and La Frenais’s patience down the years. But they remain philosophical and became, and remain, crazily successful.
Witty, deft, highly consumable, sporadically revealing. You don’t get to the top as a writer without knowing a good story when you hear one, and Clement, 82, and La Frenais, 83, know there’s no great mileage in examining how they stay inspired or where they write. (Normally in Clement’s house round the corner from La Frenais’ in the Hollywood Hills, since you ask, but they claim they can do the job anywhere.) Better to talk about being abused by Ava Gardner for not being able to keep up with her drinking (La Frenais). Or about working with Ted Heath and meeting Margaret Thatcher (Clement)...Yet even if it feels more bitty by the end, their clarity and understated wit throughout explains why they are still much in demand.