Dahlings you were fab-u-lous!: Our pick of the starriest memoirs

Dahlings you were fab-u-lous!: From Craig’s money-pit new mansion to Bond’s dolly birds and Clapton’s VERY boozy life, our pick of the starriest memoirs

  • Roger Lewis rounded up a selection of this year’s best celebrity biographies
  • His selection includes books from comedians, dancers and musicians 
  • Being John Lennon by Ray Connolly explores the star’s upbringing 
  • My Love Story by Tina Turner tells how the singer escaped her abusive husband
  • The 007 Diaries by Roger Moore recalls the making of Live And Let Die

BERNARD WHO? by Bernard Cribbins (Constable £20, 297pp)

CELEBRITY BIOGRAPHIES OF THE YEAR

BERNARD WHO?  

by Bernard Cribbins (Constable £20, 304pp) 

Jobbing comedy legend Bernard Cribbins, who gave voice to The Wombles, was born in Oldham, Lancashire, 90 years ago, where his home life rejoiced in ‘a cold-water tap, a tin bath and an outside loo’.

He learned his trade at the Oldham Repertory Theatre, with a non-stop routine of rehearsing and performing. Basic training in the Army was a doddle by contrast.

Demobbed, Cribbins starred in panto in London with Joan Plowright and co-starred on screen with the eccentric Lionel Jeffries — who, in 1970, directed The Railway Children, made on the Keighley and Worth Valley preserved steam line.

Cribbins was Perks, the station master. Sally Thomsett, meant to be 11-year-old Phyllis, was actually in her 20s. Her contract stipulated that she was not to be seen with her boyfriend or in a pub.

Cribbins has always had a nervous, panic-stricken manner — used to good effect in a couple of Carry Ons, Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy and in Fawlty Towers, where he is mistaken for a fussy hotel inspector. ‘You don’t change, do you?’ Kenneth Williams once sneered.

Actually, I’d take these as words of praise. Cribbins is reliably fascinating. This book is an essential ramble around his life and times.

 


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BEING JOHN LENNON  

BEING JOHN LENNON by Ray Connolly (W&N £20, 464 pp)

by Ray Connolly (W&N £20, 464 pp)

Described here as being ‘as changeable as the Liverpool weather’, John Lennon was perhaps much more tempestuous than that.

By Ray Connolly’s own account, the darkness and insecurity outweighed any tranquillity — and the story moves with the inevitability of a myth towards Lennon’s date with destiny. On December 8, 1980, outside The Dakota building in New York, four bullets fired at point-blank range ‘ripped into his back’. Lennon was dead aged 40.

His nice middle-class origins were undercut with emotional tensions and Lennon was tossed between various guardians and minders.

His father disappeared — and was later discovered working as a dishwasher in a pub near Hampton Court. His absent mother was killed in 1958 when she was hit by a car. ‘I’ve no real responsibilities to anyone now,’ stated Lennon.

As a child, Lennon liked being the leader of a gang: ‘The sort of gang I led went in for shoplifting and pulling girls’ knickers down.’

Being in a pop group was a sort of continuation of this rebellion.

All too often, he was a jealous bully, with a violent streak. Things fell apart for The Beatles when Yoko appeared (‘I’ve finally found someone as barmy as I am’) and Lennon left Britain in 1971, never to return.

Connolly tells the story with a fitting, powerful sense of drama.

 

IN STRICTEST CONFIDENCE by Craig Revel Horwood (Michael O’Mara £20, 250 pp)

IN STRICTEST CONFIDENCE  

by Craig Revel Horwood (Michael O’Mara £20, 256 pp) 

The key drama in Craig’s third memoir is moving house. Owing to what he modestly calls ‘the increasing status of my celebrity profile’, he has swapped his place in Camden for a mansion near Southampton (above), which sounds a veritable money-pit.

It cost him £20,000 to install internet. BT charges £10,000 a year for the line rental. Damp issues emerged and the foundations had to be dug up. He ended up in hotels for months.

He’s on the road a lot, anyway — pantos, cruise ships, a tour of Annie where Craig did his utmost not to be upstaged by moppets and dogs. He also choreographed Hugh Grant’s finale dance in Paddington 2, which took 19 hours to shoot.

 

THE 007 DIARIES  

THE 007 DIARIES by Roger Moore (History Press £9.99, 221pp)

by Roger Moore (History Press £9.99, 224pp)  

First published in 1973, this diary written during the making of Live And Let Die — a film that grossed $126,377,836 — is a fascinating snapshot of its era.

Things are very different now. For a start, film stars and crews on location expected a lot of luxurious eating and drinking. I was amazed at the many descriptions of the running buffets: lobster souffles, racks of beef.

Secondly, Bond’s stunts were less than health-and-safety conscious. He had to run around a crocodile farm where, if a crocodile snapped at your limbs, they’d ‘strip the bone of all flesh’.

What’s markedly dated, looked at from the perspective of 2018, is the treatment of the ‘dolly birds’, as they were called in those days — Bond’s many conquests. The salacious descriptions of the love-making scenes with Jane Seymour make for queasy reading.

But Sir Rog was nevertheless a warm-hearted, ironic celebrity who will always be remembered with fondness.

 

MY ALPHABET by Nick Hewer (Simon & Schuster £20, 326pp)

MY ALPHABET  

by Nick Hewer (Simon & Schuster £20, 326pp)

It was appearing in 120 episodes of The Apprentice as Alan Sugar’s henchman that made Nick Hewer famous, so how refreshing to hear him say that the show made him feel ‘bored and irritable’.

Hewer, who moved on to become the host of Countdown, is an unlikely television personality.

His real talent was in marketing and he helped Sugar sell Amstrad computers, so successfully that their company made profits of £160 million.

Underneath it all, though, Hewer thinks of himself as a slightly tormented figure who drinks too much coffee and suffers migraines and hypertension. His memoir is absorbing, perceptive and stylish.

 

MY LOVE STORY by Tina Turner (Century £14.99, 314pp)

MY LOVE STORY  

by Tina Turner (Century £14.99, 320pp)

Until she escaped the clutches of her abusive husband Ike, Tina Turner was regularly beaten up — ‘he used my nose as a punching bag so many times that I could taste blood running down my throat when I sang’. It is part of the evil of the sadist that he makes the victim believe they fully deserve their maltreatment. ‘I convinced myself that death was my only way out,’ says Tina. She was 39 before she fled.

Her talent was recognised by Cher and David Bowie. Her records won Grammys. She soon packed stadiums with her act — short skirts and big wigs.

Personal happiness came when she married Erwin Bach in 2013. But tragedy lay in wait. Tina, who gave her final performance in 2009, has since been plagued by illnesses and medical treatment: a stroke, stomach cancer and a kidney transplant. Her eldest son committed suicide this summer.

If you are a big star, it seems there has to be big suffering. This book would make an opera.

 

SLOWHAND: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF ERIC CLAPTON by Philip Norman (W&N £25, 438pp)

SLOWHAND: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF ERIC CLAPTON  

by Philip Norman (W&N £25, 448pp) 

Eric Clapton, born in 1945, is a guitar genius. He had huge successes with the Yardbirds and Cream and as a solo performer. His estimated fortune is £170 million.

As a person, however, a comment from Clapton’s childhood still sums him up. Even at school, ‘he wasn’t an easy person. On some days he could be absolutely charming and on others absolutely foul’.

Drugs and drink made him intolerably worse. Swigging brandy at breakfast, he’d pick fights and end up in hospital with bleeding ulcers, pleurisy and epileptic seizures.

It took a terrible event to sober the man up. In 1991, his four-year-old son Conor fell to his death from the 53rd floor window of an apartment block in Manhattan. Clapton relinquished his drinking and drug taking immediately.

He remains reclusive. Nevertheless, Norman quotes him as saying how relieved he is that ‘from all of that mess, I could end up as a reasonably behaved human being with a sense of responsibility’.

 

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