Thursday, April 18, 2013

Paul Eddington — ‘So Far, So Good: The Autobiography’

I made the mistake of reading this just before going away on holiday, without it, so I shan’t do a full review. If you have about you any fondness for Paul Eddington, though (and why wouldn’t you?), this is a great read, and surprising in several ways. One is the extent to which he was a theatre actor as opposed to a television actor. Another is the year of this book’s publication, 1995, the same year that he died (given the title and the presentation, it can’t have been posthumous). A third is the way it is told, which, to be critical, might be said to lack dynamics: the book is largely a string of theatrical anecdotes, put into chronological order, with little space devoted to anything more personal. Marriage and children are mentioned as they occur, but he doesn’t pause to reflect about The Important Things. It’s actually rather refreshing, and revealing perhaps in a way he didn’t intend, because this approach surely comes from the same stoicism which enabled him to keep acting through, and until very nearly the end of, twenty years’ worth of skin cancer. This could so easy be a memoir that fits into the awful ‘Hard Lives’ section you see in book shops nowadays, but it remains upbeat, though his symptoms are described, briefly but candidly. There is a TV interview he did, after his face had been disfigured by the disease: it’s upsetting to see, and hard to recognise him, until he starts talking, in his disarmingly jovial way, saying ‘You have to be pretty fit to be as ill as I am’. Bless you, Paul.

Some theatrical anecdotes. First, for fans of The Prisoner and Danger Man:

But Patrick McGoohan, whom I remember as a fee-paying semi-student, was a difficult person to help. After rehearsals Geoffrey [Ost], as all directors do, would hold a ‘notes’ session. He would approach Patrick, nervously tapping his left forearm with his right hand. ‘Ah, Patrick,’ he would say. Patrick would glower. ‘Er, very good, very good,’ Geoffrey hastily added before passing on to the next actor. (p. 68)
On John Gielgud and some members of the Bloomsbury set (this occured when Eddington and Gielgud were both in Alan Bennett’s 40 Years On):
        ‘Did you really know Vita Sackville-West?’ I asked one day.
        ‘Oh, yes,’ he replied.
        ‘Gosh!’ I said. ‘What was she like?’
        ‘Oh...,’ he hesitated. ‘Tiresome old dyke.’
        He seemed to have known all the people Alan had written about. One evening he observed, ‘I can’t think why Ottoline Morrell had an affair with Bertie Russell. Terribly bad breath, you know.’ (p. 120)
On Lawrence Oliver, with whose wife, Joan Plowright, Eddington appeared in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?:
Olivier came round afterwards looking thin and old but not actually ill. He told me how awkward it was for him to go to the theatre nowadays, especially the Olivier. ‘Everyone nudging and pointing.’
        I said, ‘Why not wear a big hat and dark glasses?’
        ‘I’ve tried that,’ he said, ‘and nobody recognised me.’ (p. 159)

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