Volume 2 picks up where Volume 1 stopped… except that it doesn’t really. More so than Going To Sea In A Sieve (reviewed here) Alarming starts out of synch (with a 24 carat gold story that should have been in Sieve) and continues with tales only loosely related to a conventional temporal sequence. It’s more a scrapbook with some of the pages missing and some of the pages a little out of order – but it’s no less enjoyable for it!
There are some wonderful yarns: getting shot, twice; never quite getting to award shows in quite the right gear; Twizzle, the family dog, and his vendetta with the scrapyard mutt over the fence; and many, many more about Spud, DB’s hero, father, muse. There’s more – plenty more and the temptation to throw in a few spoilers here is almost overpowering!
But that is exactly what one would expect from all those radio shows that mine the seemingly inexhaustible seam of “things that have happened to me”. The tales transfer from the mic to the page with no loss of comic timing and with the same curious combination of self-deprecation and glee at being the centre of attention one more time. This is Danny the Showman, Danny the Turn, Danny the Holder of Court – the Danny that many consider a national treasure (sorry, but that is the mot juste) and some find insufferable.
But for all the parading of his working class cultural credentials (and they do ring true – my brother was also shot for a laugh and also laughed it off) and his Floyd Mayweatherly approach to money, the book hints at something deeper, something that he himself has often remarked that comics should avoid, as it’s much harder to make people laugh than to make them cry, or rise in anger, or even just think. When DB does serious, it’s not like Mike Yarwood singing, “And this is me,” so provoking every viewer to switch over. DB is very good at serious.
He didn’t like being called a “Professional Cockney” reasoning, with some justification, that this was merely a veiling of a “Cockney” who should know his place amongst the Oxbridge media types. But how did that passive aggression towards him manifest itself? How was he patronised? Who did it? DB is not really one to name names or dish the dirt – like writing about his brother’s untimely death, that wouldn’t sit with the book’s overarching motif of the hat on the side of the head, luck just turning up to sort things out, life consisting of one sunny day after another. So we don’t really find out.
The relentless optimistic timbre does make the occasional cymbal clash resonate though. There’s a rant (like some of his more celebrated radio meltdowns, it’s directed at faceless managers whose job it is to impose order on what should be chaotic) that underlines his firm ideas about what is valuable in life and what isn’t. There is a real warmth evident in his feelings towards Paul Gascoigne (and a rare moment of regret at the friendship’s fading) and plenty that suggests how the inevitably “troubled” ex-footballer connected to his kind – and some pranks that makes Gazza sound like a Bullingdon Boy had he gone to Eton and not Heathfield Senior High, Gateshead. An acid account of journalistic manipulation of an interview also bares teeth that are otherwise reserved for smiling at life’s crazy coincidences – meeting The Queen in Deptford anyone?
The pages roar by, the laughs keep coming – yes, I lolled on the Tube and two or three times forced my son to read a few pages that were just too funny to miss – but there’s another, more balanced book buried inside these pages with many tales left out (still no giant firework in the LWT lift, my favourite of the many, many stories he has told on the radio). So, before we get to Volume 3 and the cancer, let’s have something that is not more serious – that would be the wrong word – but something that gets beyond the overdeveloped Baker funnybone.
There is a precedent and it comes from one of his heroes – PG Wodehouse. The greatest comic novelist wrote about serious matters in his Berlin Broadcasts. Hopelessly misjudged though they were, the transcripts balance PGW’s almost pathological need to entertain with a hard-edged account of what it was like to be a POW and why those left at home should not think that their incarcerated loved ones were in agony 24 hours a day (at least not those banged up with PGW). Put to happier purpose, DB’s gift for entertainment could tell us a lot about where the working class of England’s big cities have gone and why so many are disconnected from politics and culture.
That might never come fully formed, but it’s there hidden, somewhere between the cracks of this too-soon-finished rattle through some of the jests and japes of the Daz Doorstep Challenge Man (and so much more).