WI have an insatiable appetite for reading about comedy and comedians. Comedy lives in memory for a long time, and in comedy books the reader can read the lines that made him laugh. We also read out of love for the practitioners. When Les Dawson and Ronnie Corbett died, they were celebrated at Westminster Abbey in memorial services. There is a real interest in the people behind the jokes and what made them tick.
I was fortunate enough to see marathon champion Ken Dodd on stage and then perform a comedy with him in the locker room. When he died in March 2018, I thought that a serious comedy nerd book should be written about him, and then submitted the idea as "too early." But when my publisher called to suggest such an account, I took it as a sign and set to work.
Biographies, autobiographies, episode guides, script anthologies, inclusion books – my thirst for comedy writing depends on the lot, so I decided not to distinguish between them. They are all in one piece and contribute to our understanding and appreciation of the arts.
1. The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book by Eric Idle (1976)
Rutland Weekend Television, the spin-off of Monty Python that inspired this book, is still unrepeatable and unpublished on DVD. I found it before I even saw a frame of the series. It's a masterpiece, not least the real envelope hiding the fake cover for the Vatican Sex Manual and the slanderous Who's Who in Rutland, printed on brown packet paper.
2. Buygones by Victor Lewis-Smith and Paul Sparks (1988)
As a serious documentary filmmaker, comic victims have made me laugh, longer than media terrorist Lewis Smith. He and his writing partner, Sparks, brought devious pranks on radio and television programs, including Ads Infinitum and TV Offal. However, this book is the highlight. Reflections on the fact that Heinz made canned kidney soup, which was basically canned urine. A full page defaming the Westward Television mascot Gus Honeybun. A picture of an aertex underpants that turns out to be an artfully cut used teabag. When I see a copy of this book, I buy it so I can pass it on to the next person who has not heard of it.
3. Tony Hancock: Artiste by Roger Wilmut (1978)
Wilmut, a studio manager at the BBC World Service, used his professional contacts to get the BBC papers, and brilliantly scoured them to find out the details of the haunted clown Hancock's famous shows. Whenever I write books, I always follow Wilmut's example and start at the BBC Written Archives in Reading.
4. You can see the butt of the angel, Miss Worswick by Mike Harding (1985)
As a kid, I loved the hairy dungarees from Mike Harding's BBC Two Shows. Comedian comedians like Harding, Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott now seem to be a clear link between the old school and the "alternative" scene that shook them in the 1980s. In those days before the VCR, books and LPs were the only way to replenish an addict like me, and Harding's monologues were particularly well translated to the written page. Even his memories, The Adventures of the Crumpsall Kid, are a pleasure.
5. Weeping with laughter by Bob Monkhouse (1993)
The autobiography of a complex and fascinating man. Many show business memoirs are pink. Everything was great, everyone was a real pro, everyone loved them. I was told that Bruce Forsyth signed a copy of his friend's memoirs, "Please try and believe it." Not so with Monkhouse, a big-time comedian, a versatile comedy writer and a gameshow presenter, who never looked down on the genre. No doubt there are things he left out, but I shudder to think what they might have been, as this is an open and sometimes brutal self-assessment.
6. Fist of Fun by Stewart Lee and Richard Herring (1995)
Difficult Decision. It was a balloon debate between this and the Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopaedia, both offshoots of BBC radio comedy programs that switched to television, but Stewart Lee's grotesque and surreal football sticker collages won the day. Twenty-one years since I first acquired it, I still moan with joy when I reach this page.
7. Eric and Ernie: The Autobiography of Morecambe and Wise by Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise (1973)
This is a direct transcription of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, probably still the UK's most popular comedy act, talking about their lives and careers. Although this format does not work for all showbiz memoirs, this one is even better. They show great affection for their craft and a deep love for each other. And the reader can share some of this heat. We were so lucky that they existed and met.
8. The Late Shift by Bill Carter (1994)
This book, written by a New York Times correspondent, is an exciting and amusing display of the quarrels and politics involved in choosing a successor to Johnny Carson to host a chat show, which is also the leading showcase for standup in the US -Comedy was. It was a shop window where Richard Pryor once sat next to Rod Hull and Emu. How can you have something wrong with that?
9. A card for the clubs of Les Dawson (1974)
The big Les, with his mobile face and mother-in-law's fame, always craved for serious attention as a writer, and his debut novel, the noir story of a struggling club comic, that makes it great for his life to unravel it's his best. It's not autobiographical, but Dawson wrote of a world he knew well.
10. That's funny by David Bradbury and Joe McGrath (1998)
An indispensable collection of interviews with comedy stars by Denis Norden – with writing partner Frank Muir, one of the founders of modern British comedy – to Victoria Wood and Paul Merton. Here the writer Eddie Braben of Morecambe and Wise / Ken Dodd compares his work with the "chipping granite with a spoon". As a young hacker I went to the launch party for this book and they were all there. North, Galton and Simpson, Barry Cryer. A colleague organized a group photo on the sweeping staircase and murmured softly, "If that sucks under the weight, the whole comedy story is over."
• Good luck and tears: The Ken Dodd Story by David Barfe is published by Head of Zeus. To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Free delivery in the UK for orders over £ 15.