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Well, this is an oddity and no mistake. Written (and with illustrations) by Harry Hill, it's fair to say that The Further Adventures of the Queen Mum is unique. The best way to describe it is as a children's book for adults. It's essentially presented as a children's story book, with just a few words on each page, accompanied by a full page illustration.
The story takes place after the death of the Queen Mother and sees her going up to heaven and being charged with a new mission by God: to return to Earth and put things right so that people's lives improve. A kind of Royal Quantum Leap, if you like.
It's an odd and potentially offensive idea, yet somehow it works. Just about. It's not the funniest book I have ever read, but there are some amusing moments that highlight Hill's surreal sense of humour. One instance features a young man who has been seduced by a life of crime. Given a stern talking to by the Queen Mother, he sorts his life out, gets a job, gets married and becomes an upstanding member of society. This is fairly typical of the type of humour in the book: it's not openly offensive (unless you are an ultra-royalist) or nauseatingly moralistic; it's amusing without being awkward and somehow (and I'm still not sure quite how) it works.
That example probably gives you a taste of what to expect. If you find that idea amusing in an off-beat, charming way, then you will get on fine with the rest of the book. If you are sitting there thinking "WHAT?!" you might struggle. Written like that, it doesn't sound particularly amusing, but somehow Hill's choice of words and his slightly weird drawings make it funnier than it sounds. Admittedly, if you only know the humour of Harry Hill from TV Burp or You've Been Framed, you might be a little shocked at how surreal his sense of humour can be.
There's a certain charm to the book and whilst it's not exactly taxing (the text will take about five minutes to read) it is charming. Even for an ardent anti-royalist like myself, there is something heart-warming that makes it impossible to like. Normally, show me anything to do with the Royal Family and I'm out getting ready to man the barricades ready for the revolution. Harry Hill's quirky tale manages to be acceptable to people at both ends of the political spectrum: difficult to take offence at if you are a Royalist; hard not to like if you are a Republican and perfectly tolerable to everyone in between.
It's not that the book is even particularly laugh out loud funny. It doesn't have the belly laughs of TV Burp; it's a more subtle humour. If you want to look at it from other perspectives it does make a few more serious points: it pokes gentle fun at the way people canonised the Queen Mother (a woman who did, however you look at it, have a very comfortable lifestyle); it pokes fun at modern life (the idea that working in a call centre flogging stuff is somehow a satisfying existence) and so on. Despite its apparent simplicity, the book is quite shrewd and thought-provoking in parts. On the other hand, you can just read it as Harry Hill having a bit of fun. Either way, there's a reasonable amount of enjoyment.
Each page (or double spread in many cases) is accompanied by a picture, hand-painted by Hill. Like the text, these have a certain quirky charm that perfectly captures the spirit of the odd text. The drawings are bright and childlike -the sort of thing a child might bring home from primary school - but they brighten the book up and make it fun to read.
Something like this could have come across as massively self-indulgent; a comedian with a rampant ego being allowed to do whatever the hell he liked purely on the strength of his name. If I'm honest, that's exactly what I thought when I first saw the book. Having read it, I have (partly) changed my mind. Yes, it is a bit smug and self-indulgent but against the odds) it works. It will raise the odd smile and snigger, even if it's only at the daftness of it all.
Of course, if you are an ultra-royalist or someone who doesn't believe you should mock the dead, you may well find the book offensive, so give it a wide berth. Similar, if you appreciate more straightforward jokes and don't appreciate surreal, off-the-wall humour then this is not a book for you, no matter how much you enjoy Hill's TV shows.
The biggest barrier to enjoyment is the price: the original retail price was a whopping £12.99 and that's almost impossible to justify. Even poring over every aspect of every drawing on every page, it won't take any longer than 10 minutes to read and whilst it's the sort of book you might pick up and browse through from time to time, there's not £13 pounds' worth of entertainment here.
The good news is that you can now pick it up second hand for just a few pounds, and if you can get it at that price it makes a nice little stocking filler for the Harry Hill fan in your life.
The Further Adventures of the Queen Mum
Faber & Faber, 2007
© Copyright SWSt 2013
I know a lot of people don't appreciate Harry Hill and his offbeat, sometimes plain weird, sense of humour, but I'm a big fan. I loved his incredibly random comic novel "Flight From Deathrow" and last Christmas was really pleased to get "The Further Adventures of the Queen Mum" in my stocking.
If you weren't aware, Harry has many other skills besides being a talented comic. He is a qualified doctor (imagine going to him as your GP!) but is clearly more a creative soul and is a very imaginative author and artist.
This hard-backed book is big and square, presented very much like a children's picture book. All of the full-colour illustrations are by Harry and I must admit, good as they are, some of them look like the work of a truly warped soul!
As the title suggests, the book is about the Queen Mum, more precisely her adventures once she gets to Heaven. I'm not sure how the Royal Family felt about this book, but she is the heroine and it's all in good fun!
Basically, after passing away, the Queen Mother is offered the chance by God to return to earth to right wrongs. If she does a good job, she will receive her angel's wings. She agrees to take on the challenge, and is sent down to talk some sense into various people, meeting lots of celebrities along the way. Of course, being the work of Harry Hill, she doesn't just "meet them", she goes to a disco with them, or arm wrestles them!
This book is totally random as you would expect from Harry Hill and you sometimes wonder how he can get away with some of the things he says. Celebs appearing in the book (with hilarious illustrations) include Elton John, the Beckhams, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon as well as figures such as Hitler (who she was very pleased went to Hell!) and Mother Theresa. Not to mention President Oilnut (who looks uncannily like George W Bush!
I really enjoy this book and it's fun to flick through every once in a while. It's nice that adults can enjoy a picture book again, and an adults book it definitely is covering topics such as drugs, global warming and politics. Yes, it does it in a fun, harmless way, but the majority would definitely go over children's heads anyway, and I doubt they would recognise half the now-deceased celebrities mentioned.
The pages are glossy and it is a quality book. Unfortunately the price also reflects this. I believe I was bought it from The Book People, where it was about £3. Its RRP of £12.99, and surprisingly Amazon don't have it any cheaper than that. You can however pick it up on Amazon Marketplace for a lot less. Good quality as it is, it's a short story. Even though I like flicking through it now and again, I wouldn't pay full price for it.
A must-have for Harry Hill fans if you can find a good deal. Even if you're not a fan of his TV show or stand-up, I think most people would have a hard time not giggling at this, if only the spot-on caricatures of celebs.