A deserving Diagram Prize win

You are living in historic times, ones that your grandchildren will query you about. “Were you there,” they will ask in awed, hushed tones, “in 2016 for the closest-ever Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year? You know, the Diagram that took place a few months before the election of President Trump and the downfall of Western civilisation?”

“Yes,” you will answer proudly. “Yes, I was.” For, indeed the 38th edition of the world’s most prestigious book prize was the closest-run thing in the long annals of the award’s history (OK, Pedantic Pete, since judging was thrown open to a public vote in 2000). In a pulse-pounding final day of electioneering in the form of what I believe is called a “Twitter Storm” (in a teacup) the lead changed hands hourly.

But in the end—at 23:59 on the portentous Ides of March—Alan Stafford’s Too Naked for the Nazis (Fantom Films) cheekily edged out Dr Jonathan Allan’s Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus (Zed Books). And by the barest of margins: 24.8% for Stafford, 24.3% for Allan. Talk about a bun fight!

A word of urgent warning, dear readers. If you Google “Alan Stafford Too Naked”, your first few hits will be another Alan Stafford—one who works in films of the pornographic persuasion. According to his website, he was voted Best Male Newcomer at the 2008 Adult Video News Awards for what assuredly were sensitive performances in “My Friend’s Hot Mom 16” and “My Sister’s Hot Friend 13”.

But this is not our Alan Stafford, the author of Too Naked for the Nazis assures us: “I don’t have abs like that,” he says. Our Alan is a comedy writer—he’s penned jokes for the likes of Mitchell and Webb, Punt and Dennis and “two-thirds of the Goonies and both of the two Ronnies”—and a radio scriptwriter. Too Naked for the Nazis is Stafford’s biography of the British music hall act, Wilson, Keppel & Betty. The trio were famous in the 1930s and ‘40s, particularly for their Egyptian-themed “sand dance”, a sketch whose popularity probably had less to do with lampooning the Tutankhamun mania of the time, and more with the skimpy costume Betty wore. Stafford’s title refers to an early 1930s performance of the sand dance in Berlin which the future genocidist and war criminal Hermann Göring objected to on moral grounds.

But Stafford certainly deserves his prize, as he worked for it—changing his Twitter avatar to an image saying “Vote4 2Nazis” and imploring his followers to get out and let their voice be heard. The reason might be that Stafford had two dogs in this fight: not only was he the author, but he put his book forward too. Therefore, he is the winner of the annual passable bottle of claret given to the nominator of the winning entry.

A word of commiseration to Dr Allan and Reading from Behind. The respected gender and women’s studies scholar from Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada, must be gutted his weighty work on queer theory did not win an award for a wacky title. But his bio on the university website indicates he is writing  “a book titled Uncut: The Foreskin Archive (University of Regina Press), which is a cultural study of the foreskin”. With such form behind him, one assumes the doctor’s Diagram day shall come.

Yet, a hearty congratulations goes out to all of our shortlisted titles. Finishing in a close third place was Mark Kirwan-Hayhoe’s Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space (MKH)—which is not the fancy dress theme at a Max Mosley party, but a look at cult film—with 20.7% of the vote, while Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops (FUEL) finished in a respectable fourth place (14.9%). I must say, I’ve never actively wished for a title not to win the Diagram—until Reading the Liver: Papyrological Texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy (Mohr Siebeck, 9.9%), having tried (and failed) to accurately pronounce extispicy in the month or so since it was shortlisted.

Horace Bent is The Bookseller's diarist.