Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Autobiographies of the rich, famous and the slightly bonkers

Addition, 9 December: I'm getting a lot of visitors to this page in the wake of Sir Patrick Moore's death today. I should point out that this review was tossed off several months ago, and was in no way intended to drag his name and professionalism through the mud. Yes, his was one of the finest minds this country ever produced, and his life's work is his own monument. However, his autobiography stands as a testament to forthright views with which I do not agree, a point I make abundantly clear in my review. But they do not damn the man, who will be remembered with great fondness.

A trip to my local library resulted in the smuggling home of one of the finest faux-autobiographies of all time: I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan.

The net result of this borrow has been two-fold:

1. The introduction of "Farted myself awake" and "Needless to say, I had the last laugh" into my every day vocabulary, and

2. A like for borderline autobiography

So, farting myself awake the other weekend, I took myself to the Hot Librarian Zone that is Fleet Library, and came home with Patrick Moore: 80 Not Out and - the very pinnacle of bad autobiography - Eamonn Holmes: This is MY Life

The Holmes, I was told, is everything you can expect from the bloke who went to court to stop jokes being made about his weight on television. And I quote from the Amazon reviews:

This book is terrible. I have no inkling how Holmes manages to sound as irritating, pompous and egotistical on paper as he is in real life, but he somehow manages it. Avoid at all costs. If I could give zero stars I would.
In fact, it was only when I got it from the library (large print edition, as the author intended), telling the hot librarian to tick the "ironic borrow" box on my account that I realised that the "my" in "This is MY life" is capitalized and bolded.

And true to form, it was both entertaining, terrible and just a little bit dull. Needless to say, I had the last laugh

Sir Patrick Moore is one of our great national treasures, and his 2003 autobiography is - to start with - a refreshing change from the angst-filled tales of early life that usually pad out these editions. The first two pages of Moore's life are dealt with in the opening two pages, as he prefers to dwell on his professional career and personal views. And it's fascinating. Fascinating with at least one jaw-dropping moment in every chapter.

Moore is known as one who harbour unusual political views. He's staunchly anti-immigration, but anti-hunting and anti-capital punishment, so it's difficult to pigeon-hole him as a true right winger in any respect. But he sets his stall out early doors, describing the enemy in WWII as "Hitler, the Wops, The Nips and the Vichy Frogs" and carrying on from there. A chapter on his work as a novelist says that one book would never see the light of day because "there are no sex scenes... and no homosexuals". One can accept these as the words of a man very much of his time, but a later reference to the "Stephen Lawrence industry" left me genuinely outraged.

Can you forgive him? Hard to tell. The chapter in which he stood up to and mocked Northern Irish religious bigots is genuinely funny, and was a brave act back in those days.I wish I had his bravery. And his stock reply for doorstep God-botherers is also hilarious: "Sorry, I'm a druid. And a busy druid." And then he asks: "General Pinochet - was he all bad?"

But then he continually changes subjects, poses questions which he then doesn't answer, and devotes an entire chapter to newspaper misprints and funny headlines, which aren't.

Let's remember he was just one (very talented) amateur with a telescope who mapped the moon and was of immeasurable help to the world's space programmes; a superb TV presenter; and welcoming to (nearly) everybody who came knocking at his door. The measure of the man is that the good far, FAR outweighs the not so good.

So. Moore: Clearly a genius. Of his time, slightly mad, unintentional laughs.
Holmes: "Saved GMTV through non-stop Man United chat"

If anybody can get hold of the Don Estelle book (A byword for the bitter self-penned biography, currently retailing for a small fortune on Amazon), do drop me a line

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