Why is British humour so admired around the world? How does a Brummie joke differ from a Cockney one? Do people in the north prefer a humorous tale while southerners like a succession of quick-fire punchlines?

These are some of the questions set to be asked by a new academic study into what makes the British laugh.

And the research is been headed by none other than our very own Black Country-born comic, Lenny Henry.

As part of the study, a mobile "joke booth" is to travel across the country and members of the public will be invited to record their favourite gags.

The results will then go towards a database to be analysed by academics at the Open University in a bid to find regional patterns in our humour. Henry, who has just completed an English literature degree with the Open University, will also present a new BBC series based on the findings called Lenny's Britain next year.

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Those people who think humour is not a subject that lends itself to serious study would be wrong, according to Guy Bailey of the Open University.

"It is an attempt to sit down and find out what people in different parts of the country find funny and look for differences," he said.

"It will look at, for example, why someone like Roy Chubby Brown is popular in the north but not in the south.

"Some people do the 'knock knock' joke while others prefer telling stories. We want to see if there are people living in parts of the country who prefer the Billy Connolly approach, where you wait for the punch-line, or that of Tim Vine who holds the world record for the most jokes told in one hour."

The study will also hope to uncover whether there are certain parts of the country where sexist or even racist jokes are more popular than others.

Mr Bailey said another aim would be to seek out if, in fact, there is such a thing as the British sense of humour.

"Can you lump everything into one homogenous mass or are regional differences so pronounced to make that meaningless?" he said. The joke booth will spend about six months travelling the UK.

It will be in the West Midlands next January when it will coincide with a live show by Henry in Wolverhampton.

Other regional stop-offs on the tour include Exeter, Liverpool, Gateshead, Swansea and Glasgow.

The Open University stressed success of the project depended on the willingness of the public to submit their favourite jokes to the booth.

"The most important thing for us is to get people to come out and tell us their jokes," said Mr Bailey. "It is volume we are after."

The clear inference is that quality is expected to be patchy.

The academics sifting through hours of would-be comics doing their thing will also need to be aware that humour is ultimately a subjective matter. A litmus test of Brummie humour conducted by The Birmingham Post yesterday highlighted a diverse variety of styles.

Some of those contributing a joke preferred the quick-fire punchline while the story-based format was also demonstrated.

A selection of the jokes told to Shahid Naqvi on the streets of Birmingham yesterday.

Scientists have successfully mated an octopus with a Brummie. It's still ugly, but boy can it stack shelves! CARL PAYNE, AGED 39, FROM WOLVERHAMPTON.

How many blondes does it take to wash a car? Two: one to hold the sponge, the other to drive the car backwards and forwards. RIDDICK FLUKES, AGED 19, FROM ASTON.

An Englishman, Scotsman and an Irishman get to heaven and are told by God "here's a magic slide - you slide down it and ask for what you want".

The Englishman slides down and shouts "gold!" and lands in a pot of gold. The Scotsman slides down and shouts "silver!" and lands in a tub of silver.

The excited Irishman, who thinks this is all great fun, jumps on the slide and shouts "weee!" ZOE RICHARDS, AGED 23, FROM YARDLEY

How much does a Cockney pay for shampoo? Pantene.


This bloke walks into Woolworths with no shoes on. "Sorry," he says to the cashier, "I thought I was in Boots." RICHARD THOMPSON, AGED 69, FROM ESSEX.

And from Alan Birks, principal of South Birmingham College...

It was in the middle of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Work was scarce and unemployment was high. Families often went hungry. Christmas was approaching.

A Black Country man was out of work, but his family had always enjoyed a good Christmas dinner. He was wondering where on earth he would get the money from to buy a Christmas turkey. After the house rent was paid there was no money left over. But his wife and kids so looked forward to their Christmas dinner and he was determined not to fail them this year.

The family pet was an old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, on his last legs, lying in the corner. As he looked at the old dog he suddenly had an idea. And the dog looked back as if to say "I understand - I really do."

Shortly after, the dog went missing. Well, to cut a long story short, Christmas day came and all the family feasted on roast potatoes, sprouts, stuffing and a well cooked, but strange looking, four legged turkey.

After the meal, the father stared for a while at the pile of bones on a plate in the middle of the table.

He continued to stare and after a while, his eyes welled up with tears. "Wha's up wi' yo?" his wife asked.

"Well," he replied tremulously, "ah wus just thinkin'." "And war is it that yo wus just thinkin'?" asked his wife. He pointed to the remains of the meal and said in a broken voice: "Ah wus just thinkin' that ahr dog 'ud 'ave luved them bones."