Book Review: “Do They Know It’s Christmas Yet?” by James Crookes

Today is 23 October 2021. “So what?” I hear you ask. It’s 37 years since 23 October 1984. “So what?” you may ask again. Well, although 23 October 1984 may not be as memorable as certain dates in history, it is actually a very important date. This was the date on which Natasha (Tash) Summers was born. “Who?”

23 October 1984 was the date on which a BBC news report from Ethiopia about a famine there was first broadcast. Below is a link to a YouTube video posted by the BBC on 2014 about the report which includes some of the original story. (You can find the full version on YouTube also, but it’s not shareable outside YouTube.)

Anyone seeing the original news story would be moved by what they saw. One person who was moved into action was Bob Geldof.

Or at least he should have been. Because in James Crookes’ highly entertaining novel “Do They Know It’s Christmas Yet?” things don’t quite go to plan as Tash and her brother, Jamie, travel back in time and unleash a whole range of improbable events that could threaten a key moment in history.

A time travel book that involves the 1980s sounds very Back to The Future. Yes, it is. The book doesn’t hide away from that. In fact, if anything, it celebrates it. The marketing makes out that this is a British version of that classic movie franchise and the book story itself makes reference to the movie. But this book is not a simple British remake of Back to the Future. It’s more than that.

In terms of style, I found it a mixture of the Diaries of Adrian Mole, The Full Monty, Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, and David Walliams. Not a bad place to be. The book isn’t for children – largely due to the amount of swearing. But it is for any adults with a childish streak to them – particularly those who may be in the mood for a bit of nostalgia. Having started in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (and of the books that I have read set during this time, this one probably handles it best as it’s so important for the book to be grounded in everything that was happening then), the book is largely set in 1984.

To give the 1984 setting authenticity, as well as the Ethiopia famine news story, there are links to a variety of news stories, foods, life experiences, and music. In fact, music was the link that introduced me to this book as someone posted about the book in a Frankie Goes To Hollywood fan group that I’m a member of on Facebook. Writing a book about Frankie fans particularly attracted me to the book. I was delighted, then, that the first 1984 record to get a mention was Two Tribes.

Crookes himself is from Sheffield, and the 2020 parts of the book are set there. Having lived in Sheffield for 9 years (close to Crookes the area, not the person (as far as I know)) and being a Blade, I think also helped me connect with the book, and the sense of humour. Despite its Sheffield base, I was a bit disappointed with myself that I was (pleasantly) surprised when Threads got a mention (perhaps also thanks to Crookes’ BBC links – which may have helped with other aspects of the story too). As I have discussed in other posts about nuclear weapons and the programme Threads itself, this is a programme that I will never forget watching for the first time and still impacts me to this day.

The nature of the characters of Jamie and Tash were just so relatable and entertaining. And while you may have thought that Back to the Future was unrealistic using a DeLorean (it’s a story about time travel and some think the DeLorean is the unrealistic bit!), “Do They Know It’s Christmas Yet?” uses a C5. While I am now driving a Citroen C5, the C5 in the book is Sinclair’s iconic electric ‘car’ which probably made the DeLorean look like a highly successful venture. Luckily, the book also uses the more successful Sinclair Spectrum too.

The book isn’t without its errors – at least one typo (but almost all books (including my own) have these) with a misspelling of Niki Lauda, but overall that can’t from detract from what was a “confliction” novel – that is, one where I was desperate to get to the end to find out what happened, but desperately didn’t want it to end as I was enjoying it so much.

Returning to the starting point of this review, the news report of 23 October 1984 set in motion what would become, as the “Do They Know It’s Christmas Yet?” points out was a key moment as this text, when Jamie is watching the news story himself, points out

Jamie was conflicted. His eyes were hot with tears, but his chest was tight with excitement to be witnessing the exact moment that would change the world forever. In the coming weeks, an unprecedented collective of British pop-stars would abandon all their tabloid rivalry and chart aspirations to assemble as one to record the very first charity record. With that, they arguably changed the approach to fundraising on a global scale forever.

Crookes, “Do They Know It’s Christmas Yet?”, page 108.

Of course, the Band Aid single would also lead to Live Aid, and, as the movie Bohemian Rhapsody points out, to Queen making one of the most iconic live performances ever and elevate them to a new iconic status. But it did also lead to other charity singles. Whether it be related to the Hillsborough disaster, the Zeebrugge disaster, or others. I have discussed some of this in these other posts, and also my book “Dealing With Disaster in Japan“, but is something I would like to return to in more posts.

Although I had slightly mixed feelings about the ending of “Do They Know It’s Christmas Yet?”, and although the book was published about a year before I read it, I was delighted to see recently that a second book will be out soon. I won’t be waiting for a year to read that. And I really hope that the BBC (or some other organisation) will dramatise the books as they would make great watching, I’m sure.

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