Arthur Smith’s first book for many years, 100 Things I Meant to Tell You, brings together 100 stories, poems and articles gathered over a colourful lifetime making a living on the comedy circuit. In 2005, Arthur turned down a Perrier Award for Lifetime Achievement, saying “They wanted to tell me I was old and cool; well, I know that already.” Currently the popular host of BBC Radio 4 Extra’s Comedy Club, he has travelled all over the British Isles and the rest of the world performing and reporting on a range of subjects as diverse as Flotsam and Jetsom in Holland (in a series for BBC 1’s The One Show) and, more recently, goat yoga in Ipswich, but never before has he corralled all these wonderful stories into book form. Some humorous, some anecdotal, some nostalgic and some extremely poignant, the stories include the time Arthur was arrested for “breach of the peace and possession of a megaphone”, the time he hitched a lift from a nun and heard his own voice (imitating Leonard Cohen) playing on her car radio, the fight he had with Billy Connelly, his flight in a Tiger Moth, and – in verse – his hatred of the Teletubbies. Covering a huge range of subjects and emotions, tales of hilarious, chaotic antics are juxtaposed with gentle, bittersweet stories about love affairs that ended badly and his mother’s journey into dementia, making this a cornucopia of delight for Arthur Smith fans everywhere.

To celebrate publication day, we’re pleased to share this extract from 100 Things I Meant to Tell You:

Apology to the Archbishop

I don’t know why we didn’t leave the float in France, because none of us has a swimming pool or, really, goes swimming that often. Plus, out of water it’s extremely cumbersome to take on the Eurostar; a drooping cylinder on Avignon station standing nearly seven feet long-ways on, next to Brenda, who is only five foot two in old money.

I suppose we brought it because it would remind us of the sunny holiday, and the ice creams at Julienne’s in le village, and the heat and smells of southern France. We had no idea it would become an unfortunate prop in a scene where one might hope for dignity.

‘That bloke looks like the Archbishop of Canterbury,’ said my brother-in-law Colin, as we stood on the station concourse. He was staring at a man clad in black, with a cleric’s collar and wearing sunglasses. Brenda went on a level of red alert I had not seen since she saw the Vatican.

Could it really be… yes, he certainly bore more than a passing resemblance to His Grace the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England. A once-in-a-lifetime chance, and because Colin is as devoted to his mother-in-law as I am, he made his way over to the suspect.

‘Excuse me. Sorry to interrupt, but my family – who are all left-footers – seem to think you’re the Archbishop of Canterbury?’ The man whipped off his sunglasses… and smiled. What a delight he was. He came straight over to say hello and shook everybody’s hand. I liked him because he instinctively knew people wanted to meet him and was glad to oblige. A delighted Brenda had just one regret: ‘I wish I hadn’t been holding this pink float.’ But I don’t think the Archbishop noticed.

You know this story can’t end there. For any self-respecting stand-up comic, an Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be ignored. My chance to interact further with him came as I was making my way back from the buffet on board the train and the guard was making an announcement about going through customs at Lille. I didn’t catch what it was, I was too aware I’d been blocked in the aisle bang next to… yes. I took a seat. The guard came to the end of his announcement: ‘Any questions?’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Does God exist?’

A ripple of laughs – not bad – and the Archbishop peered at me over his glasses, failing to mask an understandable disgruntlement. But this was a French train, and even train guards are philosophers in France. Without a pause he replied, ‘Ah. For some people, they choose to live their life believing in God. Others seek a different path. What matters is we all share one planet.’ Everybody murmured in agreement.

Returning to my own seat I told Beth of my cheeky act and was roundly told off. ‘Please behave yourself – it is the Archbishop of Canterbury, after all.’ There was silence as my ruefulness arrived and she added, ‘I never expected to hiss the words Archbishop of Canterbury in a marital row.’

I don’t think the well-named His Grace minded though – after all, Archbishops, comedians, train guards and big pink floats all share this one planet, and must get along together as best they can.

100 Things I Meant to Tell You by Arthur Smith
Automobile Association 9780749581947 hbk Oct 2019