It's A Knock-up! Oliver Grape (Christopher Wood) Futura 1975
MIDNIGHT IN BLACKPOOL AND SHIRLEY WAS JUST ACROSS THE CORRIDOR...
As usual it was Mum's idea - entering the family for television's 'Family Knockout' competition. You'd have thought she'd have had enough after our free holiday in the Costa Brava, but she reckoned anything was better than watching Dad build a pagoda in the back garden. And it sounded great - semi-finals in Blackpool, finals in Cannes, Oliver Grape international television star.It isn't many blokes of fifteen who get a chance like that. With birds like Sue, Gillian and Shirley just waiting for the come-on, it looked as though my luck had turned at last...
With the success of Timothy Lea and Rosie Dixon's nookie drenched adventures spreading over paperback outlets like some cheery venereal disease, it seems a strange idea for another series - a boy in his early teens desperate to lose his cherry, and failing at every turn. As the series only seems to have run to three books, perhaps it wasn't a very good one.
However, after the relative disappointment of Tim's Confessions Of A Milkman, IAKU was a return to form for Woody. Oliver has an equally crackpot family who are given lots of page time here. Dad, having failed to successfully build his yacht in the first two books, has turned to pagoda building after a trip to Kew Gardens. Mum is as competition mad as ever, and enters the family for the thinly disguised It's A Knockout tournament. Sister Candice is as provocatively (un)dressed and morally lax as ever, and older brother Ron is a Glampunk in training, and brilliant at the slow bicycle race - an integral part of the tv show. 1975 seems to have been the high water mark for this kind of thing, and IAKU is genuinely funny, and a cultural touchstone of the 1970s. With characters such as TV game show host Archie Vole (the man who put the last nail in the coffin of British Music Hall), couterier Justin Pouverie (who's advances almost make Ron forsake make-up and grow a beard) and Crispin Pseud, chairman of World Of Paperbacks, an in-depth television programme on which Pseud, Reuben Shafter and Lavinia discuss whether R. Dixon and T. Lea's books could qualify as 'art.' The sex is non-existant but that doesn't matter as I'd rather read about Oliver's gran (who bears a resemblance to a certain leader of the Third Reich) kung-fuing opposition grannies during the Family Knockout heats.
I have just finished this one and enjoyed it very much. I've read a couple of Wood's Confessions books but this was my first exposure to the world of Oliver Grape, and it has left me wanting to read the others in the series. The only real disappointment for me was the ending seemed a bit rushed.
Well, it has taken me over four years but I have eventually gotten my hands on another of Christopher Wood's Oliver Grape series. Arrived in the post today was the first in the series, Onward Virgins, from 1974. As I enjoyed It's a Knock-Up so much, I am hoping that this one will be as good.
I have finished off Onward Virgins. It's a short, easy read, unsurprisingly very much in the style of the Timothy Lea Confessions series; episodic, with each chapter setting Oliver up with a different girl and how his dreams of conquest are frustrated by fate, though, actually, the final chapter is a little ambiguous. I am not sure why this series only lasted for three volumes. The two I have read I enjoyed more than the Confessions books. They are very much of their time with lots of cultural references to the mid-1970s. It's a book which for the most brought smiles and chuckles from me, rather than belly laughs, but if you like Timothy Lea then you will probably get on with Oliver Grape just fine.
Having read the three books in the Oliver Grape saga, I thought I would re-visit my favourite, last in series, It's a Knock-Up. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed it on reading it for the first time, I could hardly remember anything about it, apart from the "Knock-Up" games, so it was almost like reading a new book, and, yes, I again really enjoyed it. As usual, there are many pop-cultural references and I like Oliver's family more than Timmy Lea's. They really add to the humour and are quite prominant in the plot, whereas in the Timmy Lea series his family are often only peripheral characters. I noticed that one of the families competing in the games was the Wood family from Clapham. Was that where Christopher Wood hailed from? Also, Christopher is the hairdresser where Oliver goes to have his hair cut, though doubtless other references in the text passed me by. As the series was so short compared to those of Rosie Dixon and Timmy Lea, perhaps sales were disappointing. I cannot think of any other reason as I find Oliver's misadventures funnier and more endearing than those of Dixon and Lea. As the series was published 40+ years ago, some of the humour reflects those times and probably would be frowned upon today. Like the Dixon and Lea series, you don't really need to read the Oliver Grape series in order. Yes, there are references to previous volumes, but you don't miss much by reading out of order, so if you do like these 70s sex-comedy books, I would urge you to give Oliver Grape a try.
After enjoying another read of It's a Knock-Up, I thought I would have a rematch with volume 2 of the Oliver Grape saga, Crumpet Voluntary. In this one, all the usual characters are present and correct: Mum, Dad, Gran, Ron, Candice, and, of course, our hero, Oliver. This time, after a funny episode about the attempts to move Dad's boat folly in secret from garden to canal by Ron and Oliver, the bulk of the story revolves around Mum's winning of a family holiday to Spain. Following the disaster of moving the boat, the Grapes are happy to escape the wrath of their neighbours for a couple of weeks and the entire Grape clan decamps to Malicante. Being 1974, when package holidays to the Med were becoming affordable and popular with Britons, all the stereotypes are to be found: the hotel is only half finished, Spanish waiters charm wide-eyed British girls, dodgy sanitary arrangements and food, rivalry and friction between British and German holidaymakers, and as this was 1974, Franco is still in power. Compared with the first in the series, Onward Virgins, this one has less sexual misadventures for Oliver, the longest being a drunken escapade following a wine-tasting event with the sister of a friend he has made, though, of course, Oliver's luck, or lack thereof, proves his undoing. Brother Ron is similarly amoured of the travel courier, with equally disappointing results. Overall, the book is well up to providing plenty of chuckles, and I had a good time with it. There is a surprising amount of comment on Franco's Spain, most coming from Ron, and this eventually leads to the family's early return to Britain. A good entry in the all-too-short Grape saga, recommended to anyone who enjoys the Timothy Lea books and rivals.