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CRAIG BROWN: Furious at Nicky Haslam? The joke’s on you


Every year, the witty interior decorator and man-about- town Nicky Haslam releases his Common List, printed, paradoxically, on a tea-towel.

And, sure enough, every year someone without a sense of humour flies into a rage over it.

This year, the money-saving expert Martin Lewis, never a bundle of laughs, was the fall-guy. Furious at Haslam’s inclusion of grieving and the Northern lights, he posted: ‘Forgive me, but what a prat!’ on Twitter/X.

Britain has a long and honourable tradition of causing offence. You might almost say that it’s what we’re best at.

Haslam is a gifted exponent of what the late Auberon Waugh used to call ‘the vituperative arts’. He likes to tease: his lists are cleverly designed to ensure that every single person in Britain is offended by at least one item.

Every year, the witty interior decorator and man-about- town Nicky Haslam (pictured) releases his Common List, printed, paradoxically, on a tea-towel

Every year, the witty interior decorator and man-about- town Nicky Haslam (pictured) releases his Common List, printed, paradoxically, on a tea-towel

For instance, his 2018 list included breakfast meetings, swans, hedge funds, mindfulness, Bono, intensely private people, Woman’s Hour, The Proms and central heating. My guess is that most of those who agree with him on hedge funds would be upset by his inclusion of Woman’s Hour, and that most of those who dislike Bono love The Proms.

As I read his latest list, I found myself laughing in agreement at most of them – Zoom meetings, fly pasts, 110 per cent, podcasts, Grayson Perry, Wimbledon. But then I came to Petroc Trelawny and I spluttered with indignation. How could you, Nicky? How could you include the charming Petroc Trelawny, whose breakfast show on Radio 3 is always an oasis of calm and beauty?

But then I realised that by huffing and puffing at the injustice of it all, I had fallen into the well-laid trap. Nicky Haslam’s Common List is designed to puncture the self-satisfaction of all those who read it. There’s no escape. Once we have finished laughing at everyone else, we must learn to laugh at ourselves.

It’s now exactly 40 years since The Complete Naff Guide was first published. It was the precursor of Haslam’s Common List, but much more wide-ranging: roughly 500 lists of ‘where not to go, how not to speak, who not to be’ spanning 250 pages. The lists ranged from Naff Clothing (cummerbunds, sweatshirts with advertising legends, university scarves) to Naff Things The Royal Family Do (walkabouts, go to university with three O-levels, have more than one birthday, display a Goonish sense of humour).

Some lists were long, others short. Naff Ways Of Killing Your Neighbour’s Dobermann had just one item in it: Mince.

This year money-saving expert Martin Lewis (pictured), never a bundle of laughs, was the fall-guy. Furious at Haslam's inclusion of grieving and the Northern lights, he posted: 'Forgive me, but what a prat!' on Twitter /X

This year money-saving expert Martin Lewis (pictured), never a bundle of laughs, was the fall-guy. Furious at Haslam’s inclusion of grieving and the Northern lights, he posted: ‘Forgive me, but what a prat!’ on Twitter /X

All human life was there. Naff Songs included Imagine, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, My Way, As Long As He Needs Me and ‘any song by Shirley Bassey’. Sadly, the book was published much too early to include the entire back catalogue of Robbie Williams.

Forty years on, it’s astonishing how many of the targets are still current, and still naff. Naff Things People Do At The Theatre includes: talk, explain plot to deaf aunt, cry ‘bravo!’, laugh at sallies by Shakespearian fools and snore.

I particularly like the long list of Naff Personal Habits And Behaviour, which includes: share a bath, send Christmas cards showing photograph of self, family or house and mix up a punch in the bidet. Self-puncturingly, in this same category the authors include: ‘write a non-book especially timed to catch the stocking-filler market’.

As an author who will shortly be handing in a new book to his publisher, I was delighted to find a list of Naff Things Publishers Say To Authors. It includes, ‘Hullo Simon – sorry – Stephen, of course, I…’ ‘It just needs a bit of tightening’ and ‘I liked it, but the Sales Director’s wife thought…’

It is followed by a list of Naff Things Authors Say To Publishers, all of which ring a bell. My favourites are: ‘Don’t worry about me, I just wrote the bloody thing’, ‘My mother couldn’t find a copy in her local bookshop. And if they can’t get a copy…’ and – best, or worst, of all – ‘Excuse the spelling.’

Like Nicky Haslam, the authors love to bite the hand that feeds them. After laughing like a drain at Naff Smells – tweed, fringe theatres, wet dogs, boiled eggs – I chanced upon a list of Naff Surnames, which includes Proops, Biggs, Pile, Nobbs, Humpage and… Brown.

How very dare they!



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