This is the gentleman who co-created and co-wrote "The Young Ones" and (with Richard Curtis) gave us Blackadders 2, 3, Cavalier Years, Christmas Carol and Forth. This is the man who fronted Saturday Night Live and was at the time the political comedy guru of my generation.
This is the man who railed against the system and we loved him for it.
But then he became popular. Dammit. Then he became part of the system. He shook the hands of politicians rather than rail against them. He wrote terrible terrible plays. And films. He wrote the okay but not brilliant "The Thin Blue Line" which were followed by a series of atrocious sitcoms that ploughed the depths of cliche and anti-comedy. All the time we were forced to compare these travesties with his former partner's (Richard Curtis) meteoric rise. The sublime and perfectly formed "Vicar of Dibley" did everything right that "The Thin Blue Line" failed to deliver. "Notting Hill", "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love Actually" are practically perfect romantic comedies, "Maybe Baby" is shockingly poor (I would love someone to say it isn't - you will be welcome here!).
So I was fully positioned therefore to abandon Mr Elton. To put the genius of Blackadder down to Curtis. But this isn't true. The Blackadder writing partnership is an alchemical one. It is the meeting of two vastly different minds that understood how to hone, edit and craft the perfect script. So what happened? Some say that Elton was a one trick pony only capable of writing nob-gags. Again this is a very lazy accusation and we know from interviews in the excellent documentary "Blackadder Rides Again" that both were equal partners in terms of plot, characterisation and gag creation...
So here I am thinking that his glory days are behind him.
But again... no.
Because I really really really like... no I love his novels. God that was hard to say. I'm actually glancing over my shoulder to check no-one is reading this while I type.
Being a busy sort of person I tend to do most of my reading in the holidays and I am a sucker for a page turner. I am fascinated by them.I want to pull apart how the writer does that, keeps me wanting to read and read. Makes me disappointed when the story ends. Keeps me from my chores, from the TV. There are only a few writers that consistently do this for me and they are Stephen King (though he has let me down once -Insomnia is terrible), James Herbert, Richard Matheson, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Michael Crichton (watch out for State of Fear - although it's a page turner it will make you feel unclean for enjoying its Global-Warming scepticism) and Ben Elton.
It is strange, because there are so many dissenting voices. And I am easily influenced. There I am saying "Bloody Ben Elton, what happened to him eh?" and then chowing down on his latest opus. Enjoying every one.
His books fall into three categories:
Soapbox - Stark (Global Warming) Gridlock (Transport) This Other Eden (The environment) High Society (Drug Culture) Popcorn (Celebrity Culture) Blast From the Past (The Military)
Zeitgeist - Dead Famous (Big Brother) Past Mortem (Friends Reunited) Chart Throb (Pop Idol) Meltdown (Boom and Bust) Inconceivable (IVF)
Historical - The First Casualty (WWI) - Two Brothers (WWII)
He has matured as a writer. You can catch snatches of the language from his early stand-up routines in Stark and Gridlock. His polemical arguments don't die however but instead they become more intrinsic to his plots. He is able to manipulate the readers emotions very effectively and still leave us with a message. As a novel writer he is a force for good.
If you are sceptical may I recommend "The First Casualty" which is my favourite. Moving, insightful and funny.
Ben Elton. I salute you.