A life more ordinary
The Beatles, Football and Me
by Hunter Davies
Headline Review £18.99, pp352
Hunter Davies writes in the foreword to this memoir that 'the very best' he hopes to achieve is to be 'vaguely interesting' and 'passably amusing'. The very best? I wonder how happy he would be to see those words quoted on the cover. It is only as you read further into the book that you realise that vague interest and passable amusement are, indeed, all that The Beatles, Football and Me could possibly aspire to, so plodding and savourless is his style.
For the material of this memoir is very promising. Davies being a working-class, footie-mad Carlisle boy, the first of his family to get a university education, progressing rapidly through provincial journalism before landing up in Fleet Street just as the Sixties were about to start swinging. Bliss, surely, was it in that dawn to be alive, yet Davies's remarkable instinct for the untelling anecdote and the commonplace observation keeps blocking the view.
Consider young Hunter's arrival in London, where he eventually finds digs in a street near Kilburn High Road. The flat, we learn, 'was nicely furnished, with a light cream fitted carpet, quite smart, so it seemed to me. It was the cream carpet, fitted throughout, that did it'. I'm not sure that carpet needed mentioning once, let alone twice. But irrelevant detail is pretty much this book's stock in trade, since Davies has no idea what he should leave out.
I wonder how his wife, writer Margaret Forster, felt about his mulling over the memory of her being fitted with a Dutch cap, for instance. In Sardinia on honeymoon, he recalls having a boil on his backside lanced, while in the background Margaret lies in a faint. The doctor eventually brings her round, saying: 'Un peu de courage, madame.' Quite a funny story, which he then deflates with a paragraph wondering why the doctor who dealt with him spoke French in an Italian-speaking country. He later follows this holiday trauma with the time a donkey stepped on his daughter's foot - nothing broken, 'just badly cut and bruised, but she was given a tetanus injection, just in case'. Good grief!
The book betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what a memoir should be. Davies recalls dates, names, holidays, how much he got paid for this article or that book, but it's all just dead on the page. A good memoir is not about how much you recall - it's about how you make it come alive. Davies seems almost determined not to raise his reader's pulse rate: 'It was quite an interesting year, 1960,' begins one chapter, the Pooterish tone a guarantee that nothing he will say about it even approaches 'interesting'.
And yet his career really did go places: as a star writer on the Sunday Times, he was able to set up interviews with just about anyone he pleased. In 1969, he goes to Montreux to interview Noel Coward and, while out there, he wangles an audience with Vladimir Nabokov, a resident in the same hotel. He promises the latter that their talk will be off the record, so no joy there. Of the Coward interview he writes: 'It was a very pleasant dinner. Noel performed well, telling me lots of amusing theatrical stories, and not all of them were in the cuttings.' But the only one he chooses to record is that Coward liked to watch hospital operations.
His greatest coup was to secure an agreement with the Beatles to write their official biography, which speaks well of his enterprise. However, when you see how many other biographies he's churned out (an appendix on 'Books published' runs to four pages), the achievement feels less impressive. The Eddie Stobart Story, Dwight Yorke and Joe Kinnear: Still Crazy are the sort of titles that indicate a writer more or less deaf to the words 'quality control'.
I suspect Davies is rather proud of his prodigious output, and his latest role as Wayne Rooney's biographer should keep him in the public eye. Whatever his shortcomings - and this memoir has got the lot - the one thing we can't fault is his industry.
This review first appeared in The Guardian.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006