I’m sorry to say that the great British novelist and television writer David Nobbs died a few days ago.
As many of you will know, David was one of my favourite writers. I first read his novel The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin in the mid-1970s, shortly after the TV series of the same name had started airing on BBC 1. It had the most profound effect on me. It’s no exaggeration to say that everything I try to do in my own writing - the combination of comedy and melancholy, of social commentary and farce - can be traced back to my encounter with this one novel. In a just world, it would now be published as a modern classic, and Reginald Perrin would be recognised as the British equivalent of Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, or Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe.
I was lucky enough to become friends with David and even luckier to have him adapt one of my own novels, What a Carve Up!, for radio - which he did brilliantly. We made several appearances at festivals together and these pictures are a memento from a trip we made to Barcelona last year.
This particular trip came about because a Spanish edition of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin had just appeared, and a very bright young Spanish critic and novelist, Kiko Amat (the bearded guy in these pictures) had spotted the affinities between David’s book and What a Carve Up!. Kiko was running the Primero Persona festival and wanted to put on an event with the two of us. The idea was that we should be sitting on a bench as if we were in a railway compartment, with the British countryside back-projected behind us, and would have an informal, 45-minute conversation about British satire and comedy. Of course, this being Spain, we didn’t get on stage until about midnight, by which time David was extremely tired and we were both a bit the worse for Rioja. To compound the situation, the next event was a conversation with one of Spain’s most popular singers, Manolo Garcia, and the audience consisted largely of his fans, who probably had no idea who we were. David loved the absurdity of all this, as he loved absurdity wherever he found it. Earlier that day we’d met up with Irvine Welsh at a restaurant (David and Irvine always got on very well, and had tremendous mutual respect), then David and I walked down to the Rambla de Mar for a long, late lunch. He was my parents’ age but I never felt any sense of a generation gap, and this is my final, clearest and best memory of him: sharing a seafood paella together that afternoon, sitting beside the Mediterranean, and talking for hours about (what else but …) comedy.