A long time ago I was reading a biography about Richard Burton, in fact it was ‘Rich,’ the biography by Melvyn Bragg. Bragg used Burton’s own diaries in his work and wrote, amongst other things, about Burton’s love of books and when Burton went on holiday he looked forward with delight to the contents of his ‘book bag.’ I know it’s a pretty tenuous link but one thing I have in common with Richard Burton is a love of books and when I go on holiday, one of the delights of lying under a warm sun on my sun bed is a good undisturbed read. I read a lot at home and on my lunch breaks at work but it’s a few minutes here and a few minutes there and whenever I get interrupted it kind of breaks the flow. Some books, as we all know, are just made for a really long, uninterrupted read.
It’s a long time since I’ve been able to produce a Holiday Book Bag post, simply because I haven’t had a holiday which has mostly been the fault of Covid 19 so here are the books I’ve brought on holiday with me to Lanzarote.
Peter Sellers by Alexander Walker
I’ve always been interested in the comedy actor Peter Sellers. It’s probably because of a documentary I saw years ago on BBC’s Arena programme, a film about Sellers which used Sellers’ home movies and what has been good about this particular book is that it has filled in the gaps that were missed in the film.
Sellers was an only child, born into a theatrical family in 1925, he was in fact the second child of Bill and Peg Sellers. Their first child, also called Peter died in infancy and because of that, the family, in particular mother Peg, lavished a great deal of love and affection on Peter. The result was that he was not a nice child, in fact he was spoilt rotten and got his own way in everything and developed many traits he would take into adulthood with him.
Peg, Sellers’ mother, had a stage act in which she used to dress in a white outfit and pose on stage while various slides were projected over her. Father Bill was a musician and Peter claimed that he had taught George Formby to play the ukulele. Sellers was called up in the second world war and Peg used her theatrical contacts to get Sellers into the entertainment unit ENSA. She even travelled about the country to be near him until he was posted overseas. After being demobbed Sellers tried to get work as a comedian and eventually got work on a radio show by impersonating the star of that show, Kenneth Horne over the phone to the producer and saying how good that new comedian Peter Sellers was. Sellers admitted the deception but the radio producer was impressed so Sellers was asked to join the cast of the show.
From there, Sellers met Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe and together the group started the Goon Show, the famous hit radio show for which Sellers provided numerous comedy voices.
The next step for Sellers was into films and his big break was getting a part in the film The Ladykillers in 1956. His film hero Alec Guinness was the star. He starred or co-starred in numerous British comedy films before appearing with Sophia Loren in The Millionairess in 1960. The Millionairess made him an international star.
The book tells of his various film roles including his most famous one, that of Inspector Clouseau, a part which he only got after Peter Ustinov turned it down. The author also recounts Peter Sellers’ odd behaviour, his numerous purchases of cars and gadgets, his wives and how his staff had to deal with his various tantrums. His final wife, Lynne Frederick even gets a good review from the author although in other books and documentaries she has not come out looking as good.
Sellers died of a heart attack in 1980, aged only 54.
I do love books about films and film making and this one was an excellent read.
Death of a Glutton by MC Beaton
This is a novel in the Hamish Macbeth series and part of my mission to read all the Macbeth books. The last few have not been great reads. Death of a Prankster wasn’t exactly riveting but this one is much better. It’s not a classic of literature by any means, it’s just a pleasant read. It follows what I have come to think of as the Agatha Christie style of a whodunnit. You know what I mean, a group of suspects gathered together by the detective, in this case Hamish Macbeth and we know one of them is the murderer. This eighth entry in the Macbeth series is about an overweight woman, a part owner in a dating agency who alienates all the potential lovebirds with her constant eating. The co-owner of the agency wants to get rid of her. Is she capable of murder or does Hamish have his eye on someone else?
A pleasant holiday read, nothing more.
Bill Clinton: An American Journey by Nigel Hamilton
I’m a great fan of biographies and I picked this book up ages ago in one of those remainder book shops. I keep starting it and then moving on to something else so I grabbed it for this holiday book bag, determined to finish it. Bill Clinton was born Bill Blythe and took the name Clinton when his mother married Roger Clinton. It wasn’t a good choice on his mother’s part as Roger was an alcoholic and Bill had to cope with the consequences of Roger’s drinking for many years. Bill was a bright youngster. He did very well at school, he seemed to remember everything he had read, he was very intelligent and a born networker. Perhaps as a consequence of his home life he was good at sorting out feuds and disputes and when he grew tall and strong, he was able to intervene in the often violent disputes between his mother Virginia and Roger.
Bill won a scholarship to Oxford in the UK where he widened his circle of friends. Back in Arkansas he had worked on Senator Fulbright’s election team and also discovered women. Like JFK his hero, Clinton had numerous liaisons which didn’t stop when he met Hilary Rodham. She was nothing like the usual girl he became involved with. She wasn’t good looking, wore huge goggle like spectacles, had greasy hair and apparently wasn’t keen on too much deodorant. After university she went on to be part of the Senate’s Watergate Investigation staff but later joined Bill in Arkansas where he decided to run for Attorney General and later, for the Governorship. The two married and formed a wonderful political partnership that would ultimately take them to the White House.
In his election campaign President Bush thought Clinton would be easy to defeat and began to focus on the third-party candidacy of millionaire Ross Perot. Perot withdrew from the race, and then re-entered. A key moment was in the last of the debates when Bush was unable to properly answer a question from a member of the public about the personal effects of the recession. Bush was confused but Clinton answered the woman directly and had seen many issues in his home state of Arkansas concerning loss of jobs, loss of homes by people unable to pay mortgages and so on.
Another moment was when on live TV the Clintons were asked about Gennifer Flowers. Hilary jumped to her husband’s defence and asked for privacy and then told the viewers that if they didn’t like Clinton then they shouldn’t vote for him. The public did vote for Clinton and in large numbers.
Author Nigel Hamilton has produced an interesting book that is conveniently put together in bite sized and subtitled short sections. I’m not sure whether he really gets close to who Bill Clinton really is but all the information is there to make your own deductions. One of the interviewees for the book comes right out and calls Clinton an inveterate liar. He lies about many things but particularly about his personal life, his many affairs while governor and in particular his twelve year relationship with Gennifer Flowers. There are many comparisons with Clinton’s hero JFK, partly because Hamilton wrote a book about him too. I remember reading that he declined to add a second volume because he didn’t like what he had learned about Kennedy in his research. This book, subtitled An American Journey is only volume one although nowhere on the book does it state that.
The book comes to an abrupt end when Clinton wins the election. There is no description of Clinton’s joy or reaction to his victory. I suppose I’ll have to buy volume II to read about that.
An Autobiography by Agatha Christie
A while ago I was thinking that it’s about time I read something from one of the best selling authors of all time. Searching through the internet I came across Agatha Christie’s autobiography so I thought that might be a good starting point. A lot of the media stuff I do for Floating in Space portrays it as a lost world, the world of 1977 when the book is set. Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and her book truly is a portrait of a lost world. She claims she didn’t come from a rich family yet her mother and father lived in a large house. They had cooks, nannies, nurses and other servants. Her father, who she says was a very agreeable man, had a private income. His father had made investments that paid him handsomely so he was never obliged to work. He left every day for his club, returned home for lunch and then returned to his club to play whist. During the season he spent his time at the cricket club where he was president. Agatha tells various stories of her childhood in Torquay. They are all well observed tales of life in a Victorian house. Later her father dies and the family is struggling for money so they rent out the house and decamp to various places in France, including Paris. Agatha’s lifelong love of travel must stem from these early visits to the continent.
Later she leaves home and marries an airman from the newly formed Royal Flying Corps and tells of her voluntary work as a nurse in WWI. For a while she works in a pharmacy and after being introduced to various poisons gets the idea of writing a murder story. She does so and takes it to various publishers. None seem very enthusiastic about it but eventually she gets to have the work published. She is quite pleased with herself although she only makes a little money. Her first book featured Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective. She chose a Belgian as there were then many Belgian refugees in England as Belgium had been invaded by the Germans. Later she writes more books and is buoyed when a newspaper asks to serialise one of them. She realises then how poor her publishing contract is and engages a literary agent who stays with her for many years.
To conclude then, this is a very enjoyable well observed book and has made me want to add some Agatha Christie novels to my reading list.