Biographies and deaths…

Will I NEVER learn?!

If anyone’s bothered to read the first of these missives they will have learnt that I am a voracious reader…whilst I have preferred authors and genres, I will read pretty much anything, from fag packet (I particularly enjoy the ones with pictures of hideous tumors or rotting teeth on don’t you?!) to snuff tin. Hold on, I’ve got that wrong, that’s not a very wide range of stuff is it?…and it’s all tobacco based, which, as I am a particular lifelong hater of smoking does seem a little strange, never mind I’m sure you get the idea.

Perhaps a better illustration is that you could draw a line from PG Wodehouse to Irvine Welsh and anything in between or, making it a bit more simple,  if I were Mick’s uncle, from ‘The Caretaker’ and books were nuts, I would have a penchant for them, if…actually, I’m not sure this is helping.

I like reading…pretty much anything.

As I find myself two-thirds of the way through my fiftieth year on this crust I now find myself getting a bit iffy about biographies, hopping from foot to foot like ‘the poor cat i’ the adage’, keen to learn more about said person but less keen to end up hating them by the time I get to the end of the book.

The first biographies I ever remember reading were the Spike Milligan War Memoirs throughout the 70s and 80s – truly brilliant, honest, hysterically funny, poignant and sad, giving a great insight into this complex genius, you could argue that they set a very high standard by which to compare. I have fantastically warm memories of my brother in the next room reading one volume, crying with laughter whilst I was doing the same reading another volume in my room.

Sporting biographies, music biographies (I read ‘Moon the Loon’ about Keith Moon when I was about 15 and thought it was hysterical, I re-read it last year and with the perspective of (relative) maturity, it has to be one of the saddest things I’ve ever read) biographies about comedians, writers, entertainers, politicians, I’ve had a go at the lot but, as previously stated, can end up disliking people in the end, and more’s to the point from recent experience, feeling a bit cheated.

Two recent examples – Stephen Fry and Steve Coogan, both of whom have given me endless hours of amusement over many years (‘Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank’ and ‘Monkey Tennis’ as suggestions for programmes from Alan Partridge will live with me forever).

I have enjoyed all of Stephen Fry’s novels and his first installment of biography which seemed, honest and candid, but the first part of Part 2 covers Part 1 ‘in case you haven’t read it’ (what?!) and Part 3 covers 1 &2 (in case you haven’t read them AGAIN!) and then pretty much is a cut and paste of his diary for a period of time. This, quite clearly, is cobblers, particularly from a man of his intellect and frankly irritating – think how long Lord of the Rings would have been if Tolkien had applied the same principles!

Steve Coogan’s is one book in three parts: the first part covers the last couple of years, is random and dull, the second reverts to tradition and covers childhood and adolescence and part three covers college, recognition and some of the fame but whilst occasionally very funny it’s all a bit half-arsed and just ends completely abruptly.

So I eye the new edition of Brian Blessed’s biography and wonder do I dare read it or would I rather have the dear old lunatic  remain in his special place in my mind, crapping on about mayonnaise, black bread, Mrs Holmes in the alleyway threatening to grass him up for swearing when he was a child…just type his name in to You Tube, he is priceless.

It’s been a big old week for famous people dying, what with David Bowie and Alan Rickman both going at a relatively early age – there are far better qualified people than me to eulogise about both these people but what I will say from everything that has been said about them by those who knew them and the many that were just touched by them is that they both seemed to be incredibly nice people who were kind and supportive.

Having wittered on about how much I love to read etc…please don’t think it’s an attempt to appear intellectual in any way, for I have to confess that when it comes to ‘the Bard’ I struggle. It’s probably due to having to study ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ for ‘A’ Level English, a truly fragmented and ‘pony’ play (you can see that on the billboard outside the theatre can’t you “Truly fragmented and Pony” A H Brooke) which we were led to believe, even back then, would never be staged were it not part of the curriculum (when you consider that I also had ‘The Knight’s Tale’ and Book IX of ‘Paradise Lost’ it is a wonder that I have actually read anything at all in the last thirty-two years).

Well, sadly for me, it WAS staged in April 1983 and I, along with about 20 other unwitting fellow pupils, set off for the Young Vic, having already learnt this monstrosity from start to finish and fully prepared for a couple of hours of serious boredom. I don’t know if you’ve been to the Young Vic but it is a very modern, concrete building in Waterloo, with the stage in the middle of the auditorium, so you are very close to the actors, which is not good if you are:-

a) there in sufferance

b) one of the main characters is a famous TV actor

“Well yes Tony, surely item b) is a bonus” I hear you say, (for clarity, I don’t actually hear you say this), and in many cases I am sure that you would be right, but if I tell you that said actor was Stephen Lewis and for those that don’t know, Stephen Lewis is most famous for playing ‘Blakey’ the bus inspector in ‘On The Buses’ a truly pathetic, and certainly unwatchable now, ‘comedy’ programme that incredibly had 74 episodes and three films in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

His catchphrase was ‘I hate you Butler’ and he spoke in a sort of posh cockney accent.

Sadly, this was how he delivered the lines in a play set in both Ancient Rome and Egypt, a play that he played two parts in -Lepidus & Scarus, so we had double the value. Remember, Cleopatra (Judy Parfitt) is sitting about a metre away from us herberts who are developing hernias trying not to laugh out loud. I’m pretty quick in these matters and I soon picked up that she was not keen on us and, given the choice, would have dispensed the old asp in our direction on a mission.

Half time came around and we dispersed to the bar for much needed refreshment and a five minute session of screaming with laughter. Somehow I never made it back for the second half, the bar holding a greater allure than the gimlet stare of Cleopatra, reminiscent Of Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha on discovering he has a morning head following a lively evening at the Drones Club the night before.

Continuing the cheery theme of death, Stephen Lewis also passed away last year and was once part of Joan Littlewood’s much acclaimed and radical acting group the Theatre Workshop and a writer as well as an actor – one doesn’t like to speak ill of the dead (unless it’s Billy Bremner, in which case fill your boots) and I am sure he had many fans…perhaps it was just an unfortunate night, it certainly was for me!

That’s about it for now.