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REVIEW: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott (Unbound, 2018)


When I was fifteen, I fell off a stool in a Biology lesson and smashed my head first on the corner of the bench and then the lab floor. I spent the night on a hospital ward watching TV with a very elderly man and a lad in his early twenties who was in all kinds of traction. The main event that night was England winning 3-0 in their group match against Poland in the Mexico World Cup. But there was also Top of the Pops to watch. Number 1 that night was Doctor and the Medics singing their single hit, a cover of Norman Greenbaum's ‘Spirit in the Sky’. You can read more about this here, if you're a connoisseur of meandering memories...

I mention it again now because Derek and Dave Philpott’s Dear Mr Pop Star gets off to a nostalgic start for me with a letter to ‘Doctor from Doctor and the Medics’. It sets the comic note for the whole book, with its insistence on taking one way something meant another way entirely—in this instance, quibbling about whether said doctor ought to distinguish himself more clearly from the rest of the band, since a doctor is only a type of medic…

As Hamlet says of the grave digger who takes everything he says literally, ‘How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us.’

Next, we get Doctor from Doctor and Medics reply—or rather, a reply from ‘Ducktour’ from ‘Ducktour and the Mudlarks’—which establishes the other thing that makes this book so joyous: the fact that the respondents are so happy to play along, joking about themselves or turning the joke on the Philpotts père et fils.

If comparing the style of humour to Shakespeare’s isn’t compliment enough, let me go one better and say that at times I was reminded of the heyday of Viz, though this is a book you can safely leave on a lower shelf or indeed on a coffee table. Elsewhere there are pleasing echoes of John Shuttleworth and Count Arthur Strong.

But it’s fair to say that, however funny the letters from Derek and Dave are, it’s the replies that make the biggest impact. Some don’t quite match expectations—as a big fan of Neil Innes, I was slightly disappointed by his response, though there’s enough in it to remind you that his band was once called the Bonzo Dog Dada Band. But others exceed expectations, shining a whole new light on the artists involved. Martin Page’s reply to the Philpotts’ rebuke to Starship’s claim that they built a city on rock & roll is a witty and extended conceit that any comedian would be proud of. Mind you, I wasn’t keen on being reminded that Gary Glitter hails from my home town…

Other joys are provided by Kimberley Rew’s re-written lyric for ‘Walking on Sunshine’, a dig at Gazza from Lindisfarne, the return of Mr Kershaw (who’s really good at this), The Human League (Mrs) channelling the spirit of Python, Steve Ellis making a confession worthy of a character in Blade Runner, and—the surprise highlight for me—a thorough explanation of just what Johnny was up to during that party, and why it really isn’t okay to cry if you want to, from Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin.

You’ll have your own highlights. There’s enough here to ensure that you’ll find something that hits a nostalgic nerve, if not an old bump on the head in a Biology lesson.

Serving suggestion

Derek and Dave Philpott are writing stablemates of mine at Unbound. They were previously responsible for Dear Mr Kershaw. This review is part of Dear Mr Pop Star's blog tour. I bought a copy of the book via Amazon.