Friday, 28 November 2014


One of the very cool things about having idols who are rather old is that many of them are now writing their autobiographies. I'm a big fan of autobiographies of actors, musicians and comedians. I enjoy reading about how their careers got started and how they approach their work and develop and channel their creativity. Here's a selection of some of the books I've enjoyed;

Most recently I've read So, Anyway... by John Cleese. A very interesting look at his life right up to the start of Monty Python, including a close examination of his mother's obsessive concern for things that could put her in danger and how this lead to a complete lack of any general knowledge, as she had no headspace for anything that wasn't worth worrying about. Cleese's interest in psychology informs quite a bit of the book including how his relationship with his mother influenced his approach to women in his adult life. Interesting (if a little annoying) to learn how much of his career was accidental, a life in show business not being something that he initially sought for himself. Some moments of genuine laughing out loud whilst reading the book, and I hope there will be a next volume covering the Python Years.

Talking of Python I also recently read Eric Idle's Greedy Bastard Diary which is a tour diary covering his Greedy Bastard Tour of North America. Originally published on the Monty Python website the diary reflects on the incidents that occurred whilst on this massive tour, as well some autobiographical reminiscences including the very tragic loss of his father.

A book that I love and have read a few times is The Pythons Autobiography written collectively with the surviving Pythons plus archive interviews with the late Graham Chapman, much in the same style as The Beatles Anthology which is also great. Both books are great big tomes with many wonderful photographs. Interesting to hear these guys criticise each other at times, but having to be fairly nice as they are sharing the writing credits...

Recently there has been some rather surprising books written by rock musicians who many had assumed would never get round to putting their life story on the page.Three of my biggest influences have published very honest books dealing with addiction, infidelity, trouble with the law and selfishness as well as the creation of some of the best music of the 20th Century. Eric Clapton's book is honest and touching, Pete Townsend's is typically, brilliantly (and unapologetically) pretentious and Keith Richard's is very funny and reflects his unique world view. 


Some of my heroes have had such long careers that they have written two autobiographies. Michael Caine's two books are probably my favorite memoirs that I have read, despite having read them in the wrong order. Here is a very honest story detailing his many years of struggle to make it as an actor and his hard work and dedication during 50 years as a film star. They are full of anecdotes featuring some of the greatest stars of all time, all told with Caine's famous wit and down to earth charm.  


Ray Davies has also written two books looking back on his life. The first, X Ray, is an attempt to approach the autobiography in a unique way. He writes a fiction set in a near future dystopian world, told from the point of view of a young journalist sent to interview the fading rock star. I'm glad I read this after spending a week with Ray on a songwriting retreat, as reading it before would have made me more nervous of meeting him. I'm yet to read his recent book Americana which details the Kinks come back and invasion of the USA in the 70s.


A great little book I happened across a few years ago and ended up using quite a bit in my BA dissertation on character types in comedy is Eric and Ernie The Autobiography of Morecambe and Wise.  A funny and honest account of the duo's many years as working comics during the dying days of music hall, their initial failure on TV and final super stardom. Touching to read how personally they took the criticism they attracted during their career, as shown by Eric keeping a newspaper cutting in his wallet for years. Referring to their disastrous first appearance on television the review states "Definition of the week:- TV Set: The box they buried Morecambe and Wise in."

 Notable mentions also to the following books I've read and enjoyed over the years;

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