Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby is very readable. Set in the 1960s, it is the story of Barbara Parker, a girl from Blackpool who wants to be a comedian. Barbara’s idol is Lucille Ball.
Barbara entered and won the Miss Blackpool 1964 contest, but declined the title on realising she would be required to stay in boring Blackpool for a year to carry out her official duties. Instead of taking on the role of Miss Blackpool, Barbara moved to London where she took a job selling cosmetics in a department store. On a date with a customer at a famous nightclub, Barbara met a theatrical agent who immediately employed her and changed her name to the more glamorous Sophie Straw. (Sigh. Fulfilling their ambitions is ridiculously easy for very beautiful people, particularly in novels).
After just three weeks of unsuccessfully auditioning for modelling, radio and television roles, Sophie auditioned for a television show on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse. At the audition, Sophie, the writers, producer and another actor immediately clicked, and spent a happy afternoon bouncing ideas off each other to improve the script. By the end of the afternoon, the writers had re-written their script as a vehicle for Sophie to star in. The show was called Barbara (and Jim), with Sophie playing a woman married to someone who was her opposite in every way.
The story of Funny Girl itself isn’t funny, but it is a very enjoyable story of a group of people who work together to make a wildly successful television show. Sophie is the main character, but the two writers, the producer and other actors all play roles in this story too.
Sophie becomes famous in England, and at the height of her fame meets her idol, Lucille Ball. Eventually, though, the series ends, and for the rest of their lives, most of those involved in Barbara (and Jim) look back at their time working on the show as the best time of their lives.
While I was reading Funny Girl I couldn’t work out if the story was real or fictional. The edition I read contains photos from the era of beautiful girls in swimmers competing for the title of Miss Blackpool, a photo of a nightclub called The Talk of the Town nightclub, (in the photo The Seekers are headlining), a photo of a very young and unlined Mick Jagger at a restaurant frequented by Sophie and more. When I read that nearly all of the episodes of Barbara (and Jim) had been destroyed by the BBC I was horribly disappointed, only to have it confirmed at the end of the book that the show didn’t exist, and was an invention of Nick Hornby for the purposes of the book.
Funny Girl isn’t a book that will live in my memory forever, but I did enjoy the story, the time and setting and the look at pop culture from those who were creating it. The photos are great too. I think the moral of Funny Girl is that comedy is as valuable to society as anything else and should be valued as such.