Thanks to The Week magazine, I have given more thought to Charles Saatchi today than I’ve given him in the rest of my life put together.
“The advertising guru Charles Saatchi, founder of the Saatchi Gallery, picks his six favourite books.”
- The Famous Five series, Enid Blyton. “I very much wanted to join up and for it to become The Famous Six”.
We all did, Charles, but most of us tend to look back on it with an involuntary shudder. Remember Anne and how annoying she was, always playing with those damn dolls and needing rescuing from small enclosed spaces? Remember that patronising little shit Julian, always buying icecreams for everyone with his own money and acting so magnanimous about it?
2. Bleak House, Charles Dickens. “Dickens’ daunting indictment of the British legal system […] I have re-read many times over the years. The BBC television series, starring Gillian Anderson, was so very poor, thankfully very few people would have watched it.”
A few things on this:
- Anyone who re-reads Dickens many times over the years, voluntarily (excepting, say, those stuck on a desert island or in a jail cell with only the Complete Works for company) is someone I’m deeply suspicious of, to be honest. Also: you’d better have a good reason to be so dismissive re: the oeuvre of Ms G. Anderson.
- From the Guardian, October 2005: “BBC1’s much hyped version of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House got off to a flying start last night with 6.6 million people tuning in[…] an audience that peaked at 7.2 million[…] a 29% share of the available audience.”
3. Noddy Goes to Toyland, Enid Blyton. “Toyland and its inhabitants, Big Ears, PC Plod, Tubby Bear, Mr Sparks, the Naughty Goblins- they remain the most unforgettable characters in fiction. It also translated into an unmissable television series, and is hopefully available as a box set.”
What the FUCK, Charles?
First: Even if- IF- you’re going to include not one, but two Blytons in your best books list, would you really select this one? I appreciate that Mr C. may not want to bow to critical pressure, which takes some chutzpah. For that I give him credit. Even still, it’s hard to accept that any book apart from Noddy and the Bumpy Dog could be called the seminal work from the Toyland series.
[Fun facts: Enid and almost her entire extended family began simultaneously self-harming on exactly the day that NaTBD hit the bookshops. They only managed to stop when a National ‘Annual Hats-with-Bells-on-Day’ was announced three weeks later; however, this initiative was short-lived because of bell rationing in Buckinghamshire. Blyton ended up being horribly burned to death, along with several spaniels, when her lesbian nanny lover (with whom Blyton was ‘on a break’), objected to being crudely caricatured in the hugely successful Noddy and Tessie Bear (1956). The nanny, who cannot be named for legal reasons, erected a ceremonious burning pyre (made of wooden rocking-horses and gingerbread wrappers doused in petrol) in protest, much too close to the beautifully thatched chocolate-box cottage Blyton was writing in at the time. Unfortunately, there were so many actual chocolate-boxes crammed into Blyton’s study (she was, as is well-known, a habitual fort-builder) that she was immediately surrounded by a raging wall of flames and could not be saved. A memorial to the spaniels (depicted wearing dog-sized hats with bells on), commemorates the tragic incident, crafted out of the melted down half-crowns and tuppences which were donated by Blyton’s many fans upon her death.
Every year, the Queen issues a commemorative chocolate-box in the shape of a different Blyton character, traditionally overlaid with a shot of Blyton’s hideously burned face and a speech bubble containing the words ‘JOLLY WELL REMEMBER YOU ARE MORTAL’.]
Secondly, that’s Mr Tubby Bear to you, Charles. Also, the Naughty Goblins don’t actually appear in Noddy Goes to Toyland. “The most unforgettable characters in fiction”, my sweet bottom.
Finally: let’s all just picture humble acolytes of Mr C. biting their lip with worry, sitting at their desk in a pool of artificial light, alone in the office, furtively and fruitlessly searching online for a Toyland box set in time for Christmas.
4: The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas “The epic tale of epic-scale revenge. It has been attempted as a movie and television series on a number of occasions, all dire, with the main protagonist Edmond Dantes played by Jim Caviezel (hopeless) and Richard Chamberlain (laughable).”
Cutting. Any comments to make on the actual book, Charles? No? OK, just asking.
5: Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, Frank Richards. “Greyfriars made me look forward to big school, if I could manage to pass my 11+.”
Here’s a slice of big school for you. To save you reading it: Billy Bunter is really fat, rich, and has glasses, and has a chip on his shoulder that Pater didn’t send him to Eton or Harrow. He’s terrible at sports and can’t spell. Bunter is caught eating other people’s jam- by itself with a spoon- more often than seems normal for a human child. Bunter insists that he didn’t steal Coker’s tuck, but everyone knows he did, since he’s a glutton and a pathological liar. Unaccountably, his peers nonetheless seem to enjoy having him around. Cricket. Bicycles. Latin prep. Letters from distant uncles containing money for no apparent reason. Quelch the form-master hates Bunter, and wants to get him expelled, but then Bunter saves Quelch from a cudgel-wielding tramp (some sort of tree-climbing episode is involved here that I can’t be bothered to read closely). Quelch buys him toffee instead of expelling him. Bunter eats the toffee. Hurrah!
Sausage-rolls, Latin dictionaries, and being beaten with a cane, are key motifs throughout.
At periodic intervals, a character called Hurree Jamset Ram Singh makes nonsense comments on the proceedings. Example:
Bunter: It’s just as likely that there’s a tip in my letter as in yours, Skinner.
Skinner [grinning]: Oh, just!
Hurree Jamset Ram Singh [chuckling]: “The justfulness is terrific!”
Everyone always ignores Singh.
6. The Trial, Franz Kafka. “A touchstone for teenage anxiety.”
Nice finish. Because what else would you read when you’d done with the Toyland and Bunter series, but a dystopian novel about the human condition being crushed by a cruel and anonymous legal system?
If Mr Saatchi is being satirical in creating this list and sending it off to The Week magazine, then he may be the smartest man who ever lived.
If not: then I would give quite a lot of money to have been a fly on the wall during Charles’ meeting about this with his PR agency. Three mind-numbing children’s books with tinges of sexism and racism; two books about evil legal and justice systems; and one book about wreaking revenge on everyone who has ever wronged you? Paints a picture.