As our most recent lockdown dragged on, each day I looked more like Miriam Margolyes. When I caught sight of my bird’s nest hair, or ample bosom in a mirror, I would think “Oh Jesus, I’m Miriam…” Now, I enjoy watching Miriam Margolyes, but I don’t necessarily want to look like her. But physical similarity and a fondness aside, I really wish that I had not read this book.
“I’m quite sure you picked up this book hoping I’d make you laugh” she says in her opening pages, but I must say that I was largely disappointed in this regard. A wry smile occasionally, but no laughter. The book sounds like her, and you can almost hear her well-enunciated, fruity tones pontificating from on high, but on the page the words are just flat and self-conscious.
It’s pretty much a straight celebrity biography, starting off with childhood, moving through the phases of a career, riddled through with name-dropping. As she explains, it was written during lockdown, and it does have the feel of revisiting the past. I know that as one gets older, more and more of the people of your past drop away, but this had the feel of a long tribute to this dear friend, and that dear friend, and the other dear friend too. I found it more interesting once she reached her present day, where she explained her current politics, her attitude towards her Jewishness and Zionism, and her response to aging and bodily changes.
She was the only child of doting Jewish parents, who made sacrifices for her and encouraged her. Her mother, in particular, born in the lower middle class, was acutely conscious of class, pushing her daughter to meet the ‘best people’. She started her career on radio, doing voiceovers for advertisements and acting in that rather British institution, the radio play. I must admit that I was unaware of just how many stage, radio film and television programs she has acted in – just check out her Wikipedia entry.
There’s lots of saccharine praise, but she also dishes the dirt as well. She is scathing of the male members of the Footlights Club in Cambridge, especially those who went on to form Monty Python. When she doesn’t like someone, she says so. In the interests of telling all that she knows, she famously ‘outed’ her therapist over her role in Jacqueline du Pre’s death.
When I was contemplating reading this book, I checked out GoodReads. Many of the comments expressed thin-lipped disapproval of her obsession with ‘sucking-off’ men, even though she has openly acknowledged her lesbianism. Her relationship with her partner Heather is written with sensitivity and respect, and one of her lasting regrets is that she ‘came out’ to her mother. This revelation, she fears,led to her mother’s sudden death. I had vowed that I wouldn’t be so censorious and judgmental about the ‘sucking-off’ but there’s just too much for me. A wicked glee in being ‘naughty’ has its use-by date, and eighty years of age is well past it. It just felt a bit pathetic, and left with me with disturbing visual images of her. Especially when I looked in the mirror at myself. Thank heavens the lockdown is over, I have had my hair cut, and I look like me again.
My rating: 6/10
Sourced from: I actually bought it, full price, as an e-book.