With the multimedia satire factory that was Not the Nine O’Clock News launching records, books and – oh, yes – TV shows left, right and centre, you’d think producer John Lloyd and his army of writers had enough on their plate as it was. Oh no, sir! Christmas 1981 brought the third Not!-related publication (and the second that year, after Not the Royal Wedding) in the shape of the first of two doorstop-thick bog-paper calendars, featuring a quickie gag on the front of each date-stamped loose leaf (“Things a microchip can’t do: Guess Kenny Ball’s age”, “Great Unsolved Mysteries No. 402: Why does Campari never taste the same when you’re sitting in a dentist’s chair?”), and a slightly more involved bit of silliness on the reverse. That’s 730 bits of comedy business in each. (In fact, it was slightly more, with the addition of the bonus month of Thatch, and a plethora of spare February 29ths.)
Small wonder Lloyd went spare collating the gags from the untold dozens of contributors (and, indeed, sorting out the manifold royalty cheques at the other end of the process). But the pain was worth it, as the golden comedy book rule of ‘cram gags into every orifice’ was rigidly adhered to, with tomfoolery aplenty in the jacket blurb, production credits and even the British Library Cataloguing details. In the main bulk of the book, you had running skits as varied at The Skinhead Hamlet, Roger’s Thesaurus of filthy synonyms (“Screw: to stick Jeremy beadle’s head in a bucket”) and The Oxtail English Dictionary, the latter being the first print incarnation of Lloyd and Douglas Adams’s ‘place-name dictionary’ drinking game which would later spawn The Meaning of Liff.
One-off gags varied from the satirical (plenty of Reagan-and-Scargill-baiting photo caption hilarity) to the plain daft (an emergency DIY teabag, a ‘write your own porn’ combination wheel, the autobiography of a toilet roll) via a treasury of unfortunate misprints and outrageous BBC news department expenses claims. Hence, despite the famously topical nature of the programme itself, these calendars are still as much fun as they were the best part of two decades ago. If you can find a reasonably decay-resistant copy, that is.