THE neat pairing of Jonathan Coe and David Quantick demonstrated that there’s a high road and a low road into comedy writing.
Coe, who is the author of 11 novels, the latest of which is called (not coincidentally) Number 11, followed the more traditional route through Cambridge and Warwick Universities, while Quantick started his career by writing to the NME and, in what he called a passive-aggressive style, telling them what rubbish they were.
He soon found his niche alongside Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons before graduating to writing for Spitting Image, The Thick of It and Veep.
But success wasn’t overnight or straightforward for either of the speakers. Jonathan Coe might have been writing since childhood — a pre-teen thriller called Manhunt combined his love of 007 and his time with the cub scouts to make a sort of “James Bond with knots” — but his first attempt at submitting an actual book to an actual publisher produced 15 rejections.
When acceptance came via a posh voice on the telephone, he literally jumped for joy — even though reality set in almost before his feet touched the floor.
The advance for The Accidental Woman was £200. But, as Coe pointed out, in the mid-Eighties it was possible to share a rented flat, draw dole money and pursue your artistic vision.
David Quantick too stressed the time that passed between his Spitting Image sketches and the invitation to write sketches for people like Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci.
Both writers share a wry view of life and particularly of politics. Their tastes were shaped by the humour, music and TV programmes of the Sixties and Seventies — from the Goons to Monty Python — and a shared zest for the writings of the experimental and subversive novelist BS Johnson, whose reputation Coe has revived almost single-handedly.
Satire is the key, whether to Coe’s breakthrough book What a Carve Up! or Quantick’s contributions to the political mayhem of The Thick of It.
How to send up people and things that are beyond satire was a question that hung in the air. Donald Trump, for example?
After speculating about the reason for his suspicious sniffing in the first Hillary-Donald match-up, Quantick suggested portraying him as a reasonable man, as someone wanting to do his best. Now there’s a satirical notion.