Long before scriptwriter Ivor Baddiel was lending his comedic flair to reality shows such as The Voice, I’m A Celebrity and X Factor, he spent years inspiring young minds as a primary school teacher.
Now his passion for cracking jokes, talent shows and seeing children delight in reading have neatly aligned for Ivor’s latest book – a hilarious whodunnit about two youngsters who must save the country’s favourite TV show from a mysterious saboteur.
Britain’s Biggest Star… is Dad? revolves around twins Harry and Abby, who are recruited by the secret service for this all-important mission.
Their ticket backstage is their father, washed-up comedian Gus, who believes the contest might just reignite his career. With a long line of suspects to investigate, will the twins find the culprit before disaster strikes the show?
With a mix of scintillating silliness and a suspenseful plotline, the book makes for an entertaining read for parents to enjoy with their children.
Ivor – the older brother of comedian and author David Baddiel – has penned more than 14 books aimed at teenagers and football fans, as well as Cock-A-Doodle Quack! Quack! for the youngest among his readers.
The latter, he says, elicited “a just beautiful” response from his audience and explains why the 58-year-old especially loves writing for children.
“Before lockdown, I went into schools and read it to the kids,” explains Ivor. “What’s amazing is in this age of gadgets and technology, just a simple story can affect them like this. They were enraptured.”
Seeing those young beaming faces reminded Ivor why he became a teacher some years ago, before a full-time writing career beckoned.
He recalls: “I taught in Seven Sisters, where some of the kids had a rough upbringing. It was incredibly hard work, but I loved it. I remember one child who suddenly had a breakthrough with their reading. Something just clicked and they started reading. All those months of exhaustion were washed away in a moment of elation and made it all worthwhile.”
For young readers just starting out, there’s also no substitution for parents becoming more involved, as well as nurturing “that sense of connection”.
“My kids are older now – my daughter is 20, my son is 16 – and I miss them being little,” says Ivor nostalgically. “It’s fantastic that they get older and hopefully turn into reasonably well-adjusted human beings. That’s great, normal and natural, but reading to kids is such a lovely thing.”
He adds: “With some of the parents of children I taught, you would have thought that it was second nature to read to their child, but many times I had to suggest it and stress just how important it can be. Reading with your child is precious.”
Britain’s Biggest Star… is Dad? is geared towards doing just that, with a smattering of humour that will appeal to parents and kids alike.
Given that Ivor has drawn on his years of experience on TV talent shows for the mystery novel’s setting, I ask if he also based any of the protagonists on real-life figures.
Ivor begins to chuckle, but doesn’t give much away. “Well, I’ve worked with a lot of comedians and judges over the years, so let’s just say they are an amalgam of people from those types of shows.”
As for scripting his first thriller for children, he quips that the storyline is “maybe not quite as intricate as Line of Duty”, but still an involved process.
“It’s not easy,” laughs Ivor. “You have to write out the plotline for each character and see how they merge. They need all these red herrings and at the same time you have to hide the real culprit. It’s tough, but good tough. I like my brain to be challenged in that way.”
For all the sweat, tears and planting of bluffs, Ivor is pleased with the end result.
So, too, is brother David, who describes it as “annoyingly good” in a quote on the front cover. There’s no sense of rivalry, more camaraderie between the siblings, explains Ivor, adding: “If this book does half as well as any of his books, then I’ll be very happy.”
The Baddiel brothers seemingly have much in common – particularly a love for comedy. That, says Ivor, is something they both inherited from their father, Colin, to whom his book is lovingly dedicated.
“My father is a very funny man with all sorts of odd Baddielisms,” he says of Colin, who featured in a Channel 4 documentary with his sons in 2017 after he was diagnosed with Pick’s, a rare type of dementia that causes speech and behaviour problems. “Even though he has dementia now, still to this day he’ll make jokes.
“Whenever I see him and then leave, I’ll say, ‘Colin, I’m off’, and he’ll say, ‘Off? You’ve been off for years.” He’s been making that joke for 50 years now, but when he says it, it makes my heart leap a bit because it means he’s still in there.”
Ivor adds: “After I’ve been, he’s got no memory of my visit, but it’s been proven that it does have an emotional effect on his being.
“It makes him happier even if he doesn’t remember why. It just shows that at any age, whether reading to your child or visiting your parent, there’s nothing better than that human connection.”
- Britain’s Biggest Star… is Dad? by Ivor Baddiel is published by Scholastic priced £6.99 (paperback). Available from 1 April
- Photo by Thomas Skovsende; illustrations by James Lancett
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