At the moment whenever I enter a bookshop, I approach the shelves looking for familiar faces. OK so it is celebrity by association, but I take whatever I can get in life. The fact is that for whatever reason a large number of my colleagues have gone into print, cashing in on their current levels of fame in order to tell their life stories. This Christmas, the chances of you getting a talkSPORT presenter amongst your gifts appears to be a startlingly high one.
The interesting thing is that all three books take a completely different approach to their subject, resulting in their being three of the most diverse autobiographies you are likely to come across this year. What follows is a brief account of each one and my immediate thoughts upon reading them. Each title is linked to its page on Amazon although I’ve got no affiliate account with them and have no vested interest in your purchases or lack thereof.
Big Al is actually way ahead of everyone else in that he is on to his second publication of the year. His last book was an autobiography proper, perhaps sensibly talking about his football career in light brush strokes rather than intense detail, the core of the book being his subsequent lifestyle and the the part of a bon viveur which he plays so very well indeed. After selling what we are told was “shedloads” he produced the followup, this time crammed with plenty more drinking and carousing anecdotes, interspersed with his views on the shortcomings of the bits of society he stumbles across. Completely unreconstructed but at the same time just as entertaining as he is on the air (and in many ways in real life).
What entertains me the most about both of Brazil’s books is that unlike most celebrity autobiographies, his ghostwriter is pretty much front and centre. “Alan Brazil with Mike Parry” exclaims the front cover, with references to the fabled Porkmeister abounding in almost every chapter of the narrative. I joked to Mike Parry that I admired his work enormously, simply because he has now redefined the role of ghostwriter, not only being credited on the front cover, having his picture on the back page but also contriving to ensure than most of the book appears to be about him.
Almost A Celebrity – A Lifetime Of Nighttime by James Whale
For almost as long as I have known him, James Whale has been talking about writing a book about his life and career. As someone who grew up listening to him and idolising his way of broadcasting, I had in the past spent many long hours interrogating him about his side of the many headlines he made during his career and his experiences of doing late night television. He is clearly a man with lots of stories to tell and so it was with great excitement that we received the first promotional copies of his autobiography.
Sadly I think what it does prove is that knowing the person before reading the book can often leave you feeling frustrated at what you have not been told. Of course there is a balance to be struck when writing a life story, a balance between recounting fascinating details of each individual incident and ensuring you have enough ground in the pages available, but sometimes you get the feeling that the author has glossed over things that really needed to be expanded upon. Television personalities can be the worst at this. I remember once looking through an older autobiography “written” by Terry Wogan which basically consisted of “I did this and had fun, and then I did this which was tremendous but then I stopped and did this which was also good fun”. I remember the whole of his time presenting Blankety Blank was covered in a single paragraph which seemed to me such an utter waste. Compare that with Bob Monkhouse who in his own life story made sure that every single page was crammed with entertaining anecdotes of things that went on during production of his quiz shows and comedy performances, setting the record straight on old myths, confirming other famous stories and revealing things that people never realised before.
Sadly Whale’s book is a Wogan rather than a Monkhouse, devoting precious little space to some parts of his career, parts that I know are crammed with stories and shock tales simply because he has sat on a sofa with me before a show and recounted them in vivid detail. Maybe he or his editor didn’t think this was so relevant, and in fairness the book does contain detail about major events in his life such as his battle with cancer and stops every so often to devote pages to his trademark rants about the ills of society. It is still a great read and deserves to sell by the shedload but I still came away feeling that I’d only really read about the ‘lite’ version of his career.
Undaunted by Jon Gaunt
I’ll say this out loud. I like Jon Gaunt a lot as a bloke. He winds people up at times with his uncompromising and polemical style of radio presentation, but in the flesh and out in the office he is always good for a chat, happy to have a laugh and extremely respectful of the people he works with. Over the past year he and his formidable agent have worked hard to extract every last mile out of Brand Gaunty, ensuring that he is front and centre in as many places as possible, whether in The Sun, on the radio or as a political pundit on television. The latest phase of this is his own autobiography.
Except this is different. He leaves aside the automatic presumption that simply presenting his life as a “how I got famous” narrative, he instead ties it in to his rollercoaster relationship with his father. The introduction makes it clear from the start, telling the tale of his father’s death and how much he looked up to him and how he misses him, before delivering the payoff that this makes no sense: “because growing up my Dad was a bastard. A complete bastard.”
What follows is a tale of Gaunty’s life, starting from being thrown into care by a father who couldn’t cope when his mother died, through his career as a theatre impressario, a bankrupt and ultimately a successful media star. All the while his father is hovering in the background, their relationship steadily growing with every passing year until father and son are finally at peace with one another over the way they have behaved in the past. It turns what could have been an ordinary autobiography by a man who has hardly been famous very long into a moving, compelling narrative. Of all the books by my colleagues, his may well be the one with the lowest profile but actually deserves to sell the most.