I first came to ‘the actor Kevin Eldon’, as I’m sure a few other people did, via Stewart Lee – and in particular This Morning With Richard not Judy, wherein he played the jelly-obsessed Rod Hull and, of course, Simon Quinlank, the King of Hobbies, forever to be found with his ‘weak lemon drink’. Post TMWRNJ (‘tuh-wum-wum-juh,’ as Herring would always pronounce it), he’s been a presence in a great many of my favourite TV shows over the course of the last couple of decades: Brass Eye, Spaced, Smack the Pony, IT Crowd, Black Books, Big Train, Alan Partridge, Green Wing, Nathan Barley, Saxondale and This is Jinsy, to name but a few. I remember being genuinely pleased when he and Mark Heap had a wee cameo in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, of course, more recently, there has been Kevin’s own sketch show, It’s Kevin (which was worth watching for the ever changing title sequence alone). And his appearances on both Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and the (admittedly somewhat hit and miss) Alternative Comedy Experience. Along the way I’ve gradually become aware of Eldon’s poet persona Paul Hamilton (I had friends who caught the Hamilton show at Edinburgh a few years ago – I was mildly put out, as I tend to be, when others see things I want to see and can’t get to).
My Prefect Cousin is Eldon’s biography of Hamilton, who was born ‘six months before me, on 17 April 1959, to Uncle Eric and Auntie Joan’. Preceded by a rather lovely meeting with his publisher, in which he is told
‘here’s the deal: on the one hand, we have you with your small and dedicated fan base from all your comedy malarkey; and, on the other hand, there’s the phenomenon of Paul Hamilton with his little ditties and fascinating idiosyncrasies. Now, separately, to be brutally honest, there’s little there that we would be exactly champing at the bit to put out. But yoke ’em together and … bingo!’
and individual statements from both Eldon and Hamilton (they don’t entirely get on, and their respective versions of events differ) that sow the seeds for much of the humour that follows (Eldon is the Ernie Wise of this particular equation), My Prefect Cousin then goes on to ape a relatively straightforward biographical arc – childhood (Hamilton was an only child because pregnancy induced terrible vomiting in his mother – ‘The thought of going through all that vomiting again.’), school (rejected by his first friends, he became a prefect and made their lives a bloody misery), a brief career in banking before joining a band (Hamilton’s career shadowing Eldon’s own as the front man of the punk band The Times). Success eludes him although he does earn something of a following on the circuit before winning a shortlived series on Radio 4 (Eldon recreates the actual show he did on Radio 4 as Hamilton as part of his wider story – which means that it isn’t a success). Whilst this isn’t laugh out loud material, there are certainly enough wry smiles to warrant the price of admission. Here’s Hamilton for instance sounding like Uncle Monty in Withnail and I:
‘I have wept at the thought that I will never fully savour the Scouse drollery of McGough, the suburban charm of Betjeman, the rootsy verbal raga of Kwesi Johnson or the ghostly voice of Owen. But I can’t let them in. I must keep them out.’
The book also includes Hamilton’s own collection, ‘Shadows of Reflections’ and here there is real comedy gold. Whether raging against ‘God’s Terrorists’ (the Salvatian Army), ‘Prejudice’ or Chairman Mao (‘The Not So Great Dictator’), Eldon’s turn of phrase is frequently hilarious. Here’s an excerpt from my favourite, ‘Hate Date’:
‘You didn’t like my gooseberry wine
You said you’d rather lager
You said what’s wrong with microwaves
And sneered at my old aga.’
In lots of ways it’s an obvious progression (and a fairly safe publishing choice, you would think) from Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge book. The hope would be that the promise of comedy would be enough to entice some of those readers in the direction of Kevin Eldon.
Any Cop?: Whilst I can’t imagine this being the first port of call for anyone new to Eldon (or… err… Hamilton), for Eldon fans, it’s a must read.