It’s time to get back into the comedy book index blogs after a bit of a gap for National Indexing Day (#indexday) and its aftermath/recovery. That was quite an experience in itself and certainly raised the profile of the dark art of indexing and its mysterious practitioners. We’re hoping it will in future years too.
And so to the books of Charlie Brooker, ‘a writer, presenter and self-indulgent crybaby’ (from the back flap of The Hell of It All). He is currently probably most famed for writing the Black Mirror series and writing and presenting his various Wipes (Newswipe, Screenwipe, 2016 Wipe, etc.) on British television. Screen Burn (published in 2005 – henceforth ‘Burn’) originated as TV review columns in the Saturday Guide section of the Guardian newspaper. Screen Burn and Dawn of the Dumb (2007 – henceforth ‘Dumb’) are mostly comprised of these TV columns, although the latter also includes other writing for the Guardian G2 section. The Hell of It All (2009) and I Can Make You Hate (2012) are collections of more wide-ranging musings. All are published by Faber & Faber on behalf of Guardian Books.
Brooker is known for his ‘uproarious spleen-venting diatribes’ (Dumb back cover). The same tone is found in his book indexes. I asked Charlie Brooker on Twitter if he wrote his own book indexes and he kindly replied to confirm that the indexes were supplied by the publisher in basic form which he then ‘joke-i-fied’.
This blog focuses on the TV columns books (Burn and Dumb). There will be a future blog on the other two book indexes (Hell and Hate). Burn has an 11-page index for a 372-page book; the Dumb index is 7 pages long for a 368-page book.
The humour in the earlier Brooker indexes mostly comes from the amusing heading and subheading wording, being often irreverent and rather sweary. Slight word of warning here: my blogs are about to get much swearier for a while, with the next two on Charlie Brooker and another couple of very sweary book indexes to review in the pipeline. Is swearing big and clever? Well, yes, sometimes it is. Funny too.
Many of the television programmes covered in both books are soap operas and various formats of reality television, many of which fill the screens to this day: I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here, Pop Idol/Popstars (early incarnations of Simon Cowell’s The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent), The Apprentice (let’s not go there) and Dragons’ Den. Brooker certainly vents some spleen on these. From the Burn index:
- Big Brother (C4): sadistic influence of, 71; second coming of, 84, 101, 102; as celebrity Guantanamo, 212; full of wankers, 256–8; still full of wankers, 258–9; full of one particular wanker, 261–2 […]
- Cowell, Simon: acts the bastard, 123; makes Dr Fox look dignified, 137; challenged to fight, 274; is unavoidable, 301; becomes wearingly familiar, 352
There’s some very unfortunate programme titles to be found in both indexes. A few of the more interesting ones in Burn are So You Think You Want Bigger Boobs?, My Breasts Are Too Big (not sure in which order they were broadcast), If … We Don’t Stop Eating, Touch the Truck and Ouch! Some of those in the Dumb index include Cannibal Holocaust, Gerbil Roulette, Inside Britain’s Fattest Man, My Small Breasts and I, Too Ugly for Love (a TV series ongoing to this day) and the following, with its handy qualifier:
- Whatever Happened to the Mini Pops?, televisual question posed and answered, 94–5
Brooker has a particular interest in the US series 24, its actors and characters. From the Burn index:
- Jack Bauer (24): defies authority, 162; […] suffers breakdown, grows beard, 227; wigs out completely, 255; loses war on drugs, 317
- Sutherland, Kiefer: early resemblance to backside, 159; attempts to get sacked, 162; transformed into action hero, 163–5; film career of, 180; likeness to Antony Worrall Thompson, 251; vaults shark, urinates on viewer, 317
‘Jack Bauer’ appears (with no subheadings sadly) as ‘Bauer, Jack’ in the Dumb index. Strictly speaking, he should appear under ‘Jack Bauer’ as it is the name of a fictional character (although I don’t always agree with or follow this ‘rule’). Names in indexing can initially seem to be easy when ‘namespotting’ in a text but they can become a bit of a minefield. Just one of the many thorny (nerdy?) issues for us indexers. The centrepieces in our international journal of indexing (yes, really) The Indexer are invaluable for this.
By the time of Dumb, 24 seems to be losing the plot(s) a little more:
- 24 […]: loses its mind, in as much as any programme can have a ‘mind’ in the first place, 249–51; […] twelve sure-fire ways to save, 303–5
Ah, how I miss 24, in all its shark-jumping glory.
Given the nature of the books, of course many TV personalities appear in both indexes. For the most part, these are not kindly treated in the main text, with some of these descriptions ending up in the indexes. From the Burn index:
- Aspel, Michael: is considered dull, 8; possibly excretes eggs, 26; might as well fellate guests, 27
- Barker, Linda: inferior to mop, 252
- Davidson, Jim: provokes tooth-grinding, 7; […] almost responsible for destruction of Earth, 196; sawn open in vivid fantasy, 212; among worst of decade, 248
- Evans, Chris: gaudy stunts of, 89; fails to realise full extent of genius, 305
- Kilroy-Silk, Robert: as antichrist, 109; as evil presence, 127; as Judge Death, 264
- McCall, Davina: omnipresence of, 68; grating voice of, 201; depressed by, 234; begged to consider eight-year sabbatical, 322; replaced by Kate Thornton, 352
- Norton, Graham: plays Brian in Big Brother, 85; becomes tiresome, 261; remains tiresome, 272
- Ono, Yoko: talking absolute bollocks, 283
- Thornton, Kate: scared of cybermen, 306; likened to a kitten’s fart, 352
- Titchmarsh, Alan: upsets hypothetical children, 7; dances moronically, 17; has head grafted onto cat’s body, 36; simultaneously praised and mocked, 58; inspires thousands, 200
- Williams, Robbie: dreadful vocal stylings of, 46; appropriates Sinatra’s legacy, 129; imitates Elvis, 140; […] is much admired by cretins, 274; interminable self-pitying burblings of, 333
And one of my favourites from this index (or indeed any index):
Here are a few more in a similar vein from the Dumb index:
- Acorah, Derek, conducting genteel conversation with Yvette Fielding, 24–5
- Bannatyne, Duncan, ‘just so you know, I’m out’ – that’s what he says after having sex with a lady, 32, 203, 252
- Edmonds, Noel, exploring dual realities, 139–40
- Hewer, Nick, face like an eagle peering at a banknote, 155; as Gandalf, 302
- Jackson, Peter, tendency to OVERDO it, 75
- Kyle, Jeremy, visage bound to make guest appearance looming within 3000-ft high mushroom cloud come Judgement Day, 97–9, 111
- Quirke, Pauline, surprisingly large number of references to, 66, 129, 155; depicted by Ken Russell, 246
- Walliams, David, enjoying sexual intercourse with potato, 72
Screen Burn was published in 2005 and collects columns from 2000 to 2004, so we are in the Blair and mainly Bush (Jr) era, with future Prime Minister Brown still as Chancellor:
- Blair, Tony: implored to intervene, 231; flirts with scumbag, 281; wrestles naked by fireplace, 284; apparent bum disorder of, 335
- Brown, Gordon: lesser twerp than Blair, 285; goes all fidgetyknickers, 335
- Bush, George W.: lying, psychotic drink-driver, 335; provoking hollow laughter, 338
Blair and Bush return in Dumb. We’re nearing the end of the Blair era by now, and in the early days of the rise of the new Tory leader:
- Blair, Tony, 21, 39, 163, 224; enjoys fictitious threesome, 269; 287; glorious bloodsoaked legacy of, 290–91
- Bush, George W., ix, x, 119, 164; encouraged to mount dead animals, 268–70
- Cameron, David, 156, 269; justifiable abuse of, 275–6
Much hilarity would later be caused by the 2015 ‘Piggate’ uncorroborated rumours circulated about Cameron, and their similarities to ‘The National Anthem’ episode of Brooker’s Black Mirror series in 2011. Who knows what will be made of Tr*mp in 2017 Wipe.
Odds and sods
There are other amusing headings and subheadings in both indexes on a range of subjects. Charlie Brooker is no great fan of football, for starters. From the Burn index:
- football: Santa injured at stadium, 91; tediousness of, 173; kills Rod Hull, 262; is worse than Jamie Cullum, 334; shouldn’t be televised, 338; smells and is rubbish, 343
- World Bloody Cup (BBC1/ITV), 173–4
By the time of Dumb, he has grown no fonder of the beautiful game:
- boring bloody football, see football
- football, appeal to dunderheads, 167–9
- The World Fucking Cup, 167–8
Here are some other random entries from the Burn index:
- Americans: loud, terrifying, 20; young, hateful, 35; young, troubled, 81; bloodthirsty, 92; bland, 95; ghoulish, 139; defecating cheerfully, 148; actually quite nice, 175; […] better than us, 271
- commercials: […] starring monkeys, 83; starring Jamie Oliver, 84; starring Satan, 85; […] promoting tasselled shirts in nightmare world, 172–3; […] targeting children, 332; aimed at wankers, 343
- costume dramas: five-year ban proposed, 206; five-year ban proposed again, 214; pleas ignored, 241
- posh people: with infuriating voices, 135; […] having silly names, copulating loudly in hotel rooms, 203; young and loaded, 267; considered punchable, 325
- text messages: girlfriends dumped via, 19; […] providing glimpses into cretinous mindset, 317; enjoyed by knife-wielding teenagers, 348
And from Dumb:
- awards, for various idiots, 52–4; for mad aunts, 102; petulantly doled out, 109–12
- kids, shrieking in restaurants, 58–9; asking for it, 93–4; as alternative energy source, 127–8
- parties, as rationed fun, 175–6
- suicide button, instant, 67–9
There are hardly any cross-references used in the Burn index. I think these are the only ones:
- Derren Brown, see Brown, Derren
- McFadden, Steve, see Phil Mitchell
There are only a few in Dumb too. There’s this striking example:
- Piss, Justin, see Timberlake, Justin
And some fine cross-references revolving around ‘psychics’. Here’s a selection of the slightly tamer ones.
- arseholes, see psychics
- nasty grief-raping sucksacks, see psychics
- unforgivable subhuman cocksuckers, see psychics
You get the gist.
The Dumb index (at 7 pages) is rather shorter than the Burn index (11 pages) and there are fewer amusing subheadings. I presume this was not due to stringent space requirements for this index as it is followed by seven blank pages at the back of the book. (Somewhere, silently, an indexer weeps.) Both are good working indexes though and add considerable entertainment in themselves. I find it interesting to look back at both of these in terms of the popular programmes discussed at the time. Much of the televisual content is quite ludicrous but arguably is even worse today. (See the increasing waves of reality TV ‘stars’, themselves then filling ‘celebrity’ game shows. Or, rather, don’t.)
In both the Burn and Dumb indexes, subheadings are listed by page order in the book rather than alphabetical order of subheading wording, as would be standard indexing practice. There could be an argument made for this as the books are in chronological order of newspaper columns so page order is also chronological order in this case. With some subjects, in this order, you can see how Brooker’s (and public) opinion towards personalities and programmes may have shifted or alternatively strengthened (and got swearier) over time.
A future blog post will follow on from this one by focusing on the two later collections of Charlie Brooker’s columns: The Hell of It All (2009) and I Can Make You Hate (2012). The Hate index in particular has much of amusement value, being something of a magnum opus of an 18-page index for a 412-page book, which, as many indexers would attest, is a rather more generous index length allowance than we are often afforded. There’s a lot of funny (ha-ha and peculiar) stuff in both of these later indexes. Yourselves, brace. [Update: this Hate and Hell index blog post is now available here.]
I have several more entertaining and unusual book indexes to look at for future blogs but I am always keen to hear of more examples. Please do get in touch if you know of any others.
Now go away.