Psst! Want a lovingly crafted, font-perfect collection of printed parodies? This stoutly-bound spinoff from Eric Idle’s recession-beating Rutland Weekend Television series is the book for you. Just as the TV original served up warped copies of Heath-era telly tropes via ‘the country’s smallest independent TV station’, so this tome collates facsimiles of books and magazines of the period: your sex manuals, Who’s Who, the TV Times, Rolling Stone, even a school exam paper.
It’s all beautifully done. Thanks to Derek Birdsall, designer extraordinaire, the man behind the Python books and, most practically, director of the company which did the printing, each section looks uncannily like the thing its parodying, right down to the paper it’s printed on. ‘Rutland Stone’ comes on exactly the same pulpy, yellowing newsprint with the ragged edges and the two-colour red-on-black print as its American counterpart. The ‘Rutland TV Times’ showcases screengrabs from the series on precisely the sort of lightweight, slightly shiny, slightly anaemic paper stock used for vintage era TV Times. It’s not all about parchmental verisimilitude: the Who’s Who section turns up on stout brown Post Office issue wrapping paper. And the Monty Python Bok cover wrapper gag is reversed: this time a ‘bottom inspecting’ wraparound jacket conceals the anodyne ‘Wonderful World of Prince Charles’. This is one comedy book that genuinely deserves the epithet ‘lavishly tooled’. (Ironically, while the TV series was famously cheap to produce, even with strings pulled, the book remains the most expensive comedy spin-off ever printed).
Is it a triumph of style over substance? Very nearly. Idle writes the whole thing himself, and things do get repetitive in places. One or two mock Who’s Who entries in prime Idle-ese for the likes of Janet Rabbit-Endorsement and Alice B Topless are fine, but the gag starts to wear thin over seven pages. On the other hand, it’s great to see a TV listings parody go all the way from front to back cover, taking in Badedas ads, Army Recruitment tests and the holiday section on the way. In a nutshell, it’s the best of Eric Idle (four-star wordplay, extreme seediness, microscopic attention to detail), it’s the worst of Eric Idle (one idea stretched beyond breaking point, bitchy in-jokes about celeb chums, a slightly off-putting halfway-to-LA sense of louche superiority about the whole deal). But at least it’s a special washable edition.