A week rarely goes by without a TV actor, film star or politician issuing an apology. Last week it was Mathew Horne – of Gavin and Stacey fame – Justin Timberlake (of dating Britney Spears back in the day fame) and Jeremy Corbyn – of presiding over Labour’s hammering in the election fame.
It is in this spirit that I would like to apologise for spraying several members of the audience at a Count Arthur Strong gig with beer after erupting into laughter whilst slurping my drink. I’m sorry that I came up short and I take my responsibility for it. You might call me, as Horne called BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg in a tweet, a “disingenuous plopcarpet” but, as Timberlake acknowledged on Instagram after being snapped on a balcony holding hands with a woman who was not his wife: “I drank way too much that night and I regret my behaviour.”
Still, Christmas is the season to be mildly (okay, more than mildly) inebriated and laugh yourself silly watching your favourite comedian live in an old-fashioned theatre. And I make no apology for finding Count Arthur’s Is There Anybody Out There one-man show side-splittingly funny. The 64-year-old Leeds lad, a delusional, dyspeptic, old-fashioned entertainer invented by Steve Delaney, provided much-needed hilarity during a bleak, politically depressing, year dominated by disingenuous plopcarpets of all persuasions.
I also left the Carriageworks Theatre with wet cheeks after watching another extraordinary one-man show by a Leeds lad – Jonny Magnanti – who gave a powerful reading of Tony Harrison’s V, one of the greatest poems of recent times. These were not, however, tears of laughter.
I once interviewed Harrison, the Bard of Beeston, in a cafe and despite the grim, and often mournful, nature of his remarkable poetry, I found him to be a barrel of laughs. He even revealed that, whilst attending Leeds University in the 1960s, he starred in an unlikely double act with the comedian Barry Cryer.
Both my favourite novel and play of the year (and, come to think of it Count Arthur’s late, lamented TV series) are set in cafes. We Don’t Die Of Love, by the Yorkshire-based Stephen May observes the oddities of northern England with great wit and insight. If you are still looking for a cracking read to pop in someone’s Christmas stocking, I would highly recommend his sharply-observed fifth novel.
I would love to hang out in his protagonist’s cafe. Which is more than can be said for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s guinea-pig-themed eatery. The Fleabag star charges £12.55 for a cheese sandwich and her story about a pencil and a hamster will put you right off your latte.
The revival of her dark, often cruel, one-woman play about the disastrous romances of a sexually liberated 21st-century woman pointed to the direction she was to take in Killing Eve, the most mesmerising TV series of the year.
The fact that it co-starred Jodie Comer as the delightfully mercurial Villanelle should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the 26-year-old Scouser’s career. She was outstanding in Thirteen, hilarious in My Mad Fat Diary and terrific in Doctor Foster. No wonder she was included in Vogue’s list of “The Most Influential Girls of 2018.”
She is top of my list of this year’s most influential females. All of them, apart from Waller-Bridge, happen to be northern. So, take a bow Lauren Laverne – a great replacement for Kirsty Young as host of Desert Island Discs; Jodie Whittaker – sensationally good as the thirteenth Doctor Who; and Diane Morgan – the stand-out star of the brilliant Motherland.
Which brings me back to one of the apologies in this review of the year. Corbyn should not just say sorry for his role in the haemorrhaging of the Labour vote in its northern heartlands – he must announce that the party’s next leader should be a northern woman. Having suffered the heaviest general election defeat in living memory, Labour should turn away from their London-centric focus on politics and choose Lisa Nandy, Angela Rayner or Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Like them or loathe them, none of these leadership contenders can be accused of being disingenuous plopcarpets.