"YOU’RE HIM, AREN’T YOU?"
Reviewed by Gillian Puddle.
Cheers, whistles and thunderous applause – this was the reception Paul Darrow received from Dr Who aficionados on taking the stage for the second time during the ‘Dimensions’ convention last November. If you have ever been lucky enough to hear him speak at an event, you will know why. Paul has an amazing gift for building a rapport with his listeners, whether hosting a quiz or auction, taking part in an interview or taking centre stage. If the latter, the chances are the audience will be treated to non-stop, often hilarious, anecdotes drawn from his forty-year career in the acting profession. However long he speaks, it is never, ever long enough. But now there is the chance to hear more! In his eagerly awaited autobiography ‘You’re Him, Aren’t You?’ Paul engages with the reader from start to finish in much the same way as he holds the attention of an audience. An arresting colour photo of Avon adorns the cover of the book, whilst inside there is a delightful selection of black and white photos, including ‘baby Paul’! Although the print is rather small, the book is an easy and humorous read, with an ‘unputdownable’ quality.
Those who have wondered what Mr. Darrow’s real surname might be, will find their curiosity satisfied on page 9! This is no ‘kiss and tell’ volume but the opposite sex do get a mention, from the dedication to his ‘best girls’ (not the chorus line!) to the pivotal meeting with a young actress named Janet, who was later to become Mrs. Darrow. Having passed with flying colours the ‘art of sex on stage’ course taken by a smouldering teacher at RADA, it follows that this subject also graces the pages, as do some tales of early girlfriends and even earlier sex education.
Post war austerity affected Paul’s childhood and he was moved around, spending some time living with his grandmother and other assorted relatives. Nonetheless, Paul also managed to meet some famous people – namely, Patrick McGoohan and Diana Dors. Perhaps these early brushes with celebrity were an indication of what was to come! Teenage years were spent at public school. After some unconventional acts of derring-do in the Combined Cadet Force and boxing ring, it seemed a career in the military or law beckoned. Paul had other ideas, fuelled by many a long hour spent in the local cinema. A stint at a London solicitor’s office – during which he managed to bump into the Queen Mother – made him even more determined. He would be an actor.
So begins a fascinating account of Paul’s training and wide-ranging roles in the world of theatre, TV and film. The pages are studded with the names of famous people with whom Paul has worked and the reminiscences come thick and fast. From wearing glitter tights, stiletto heels and a Chanel dress as the up market pantomime dame in Robinson Crusoe to wearing nothing at all in the bedroom scene of The Poisoning of Charles Bravo. Halting the play, Alfie, in mid-scene to talk, in character, with a troubled elderly lady in the audience to bringing the house down by singing like Elvis in Look Back in Anger. Still with Elvis, the profoundly moving experience of playing ‘the King’ in Are You Lonesome Tonight? Performing for the good and the great in sumptuous locations - after dinner entertainment with a difference.
However, one role deserves special mention – that of Avon. Four chapters are devoted to the subject of Blake’s Seven, including ‘The Plain Man’s Guide to Alien Invasion’ – Paul’s take on all 52 episodes. The events surrounding the attempt to revive Blake’s Seven are also chronicled. And what about the fans? Yes, they get a mention too!
Despite the many and varied roles Paul has played over the years, the character of Avon is the one that has stood the test of time, embedding himself in the minds and hearts of many. It is refreshing that Paul not only doesn’t complain about this, but seems to delight in being forever Avon.
"YOU’RE HIM, AREN’T YOU?"
Reviewed by Helen Reilly.
The title of course refers to ‘Avon’, which means that it is difficult to begin without referring to Blake’s 7. The popularity of Blake's 7 is difficult to explain, though many have tried. It is however indisputably enduring. There have been a number of books good, bad and mediocre published on the series that have dealt with pretty well all aspects of it in minute and excruciating detail. In this book the actor who created Avon gives us not only his version and thoughts of the character and series that made him such a well known name, but an elegantly written testament of his life and work generally.
The book contains 22 chapters, some as short as a page, with five of these dealing specifically with Blake’s 7. The other 17 cover various aspects of Paul’s life and work pre and post Blake including his childhood during the 2nd World War, public school, his father’s aspirations for him, his training at RADA, his loves, the fans and anecdotes from the many and varied productions, both stage and otherwise, that he has appeared in. He name drops unashamedly but is invariably generous in his comments about the people he mentions. Paul is a wonderful raconteur and the tales he tells are always funny and interesting. The only problem I had was the fact that there is a considerable amount of cross-over information with many facts and incidents being discussed or referred to in more than one instance and more than one context, which I ultimately found a bit repetitive. I think the problem here lies less with the author, many ancedotes are relevant and funny in more than one circumstance anyway, than with the editor. A slightly different format and tighter editing would have avoided this problem.
Each chapter is given a slightly quirky and very apt title. The Blake’s 7 chapters, ‘Thieves, killers, mercenaries, psychopaths’, ‘…the whole idea is an absurd fantasy…’, ‘The Plain Man’s Guide to Alien Invasion’, ‘I really rather enjoyed that’ and ‘Only mistaken’, cover Paul’s view of the series from its inception through to it is denouement. In ‘The Plain Man’s Guide to Alien Invasion’, the author gives his synopsis of each of the 52 episodes, which is interesting to compare with something like Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7: The Programme Guide by Tony Attwood.
The chapters covering Paul’s life and work outside of Blake take us on a journey of four decades, from how he chose his stage name to youthful hijinks in the Cadet Corps to the many characters, as varied as Dracula and Elvis, Dr Verity and Tekker, that Paul has breathed life into. The fact that he has found it necessary on at least two occasions to address distressed fans in character is a testament to his ability to create a believable and empathetic stage persona. The quote from a critic in the antepenultimate chapter that ‘Mr Darrow plays Macbeth like Freddie Mercury giving a farewell concert’, is a classic example of this ability. Unfortunately I was not able to see the production in question; however, whilst Paul has listed this as a bad review, I think it is probably the opposite. Macbeth should be played like Freddie Mercury giving a farewell concert, with passion and verve and a certain j’en sais quoi!
The book is well written, in the same style as Paul’s two novels, with short punchy sentences and evocative language. The proofing is generally good, with just the odd few errors sneaking through and the editing is generally sound, although as I mentioned earlier I found some aspects repetitive. The photos are interesting and appropriate and, will be of improved quality in the 2nd edition. The publishers should also consider increasing the print size. The small print may have been an economy measure but has done no justice to the book whatsoever.
All in all the good points of the book far outweigh the bad and I would recommend it to any and all Paul Darrow and Blake’s 7 fans, and to anyone just wanting an interesting read about British theatre and television over the last 40 years.
"YOU’RE HIM, AREN’T YOU?"
Reviewed by Ros Williams.
This book is unputdownable. Which leads to a problem when you get to the end of it. Your best solution is to read it again.
It's actually packed full of quips like that - they come fast and furious and so effectively! Frequently hilarious, always totally entertaining, a great witty style (but then we all know Paul's very witty), always informative. Everything you wanted to know about Paul & Avon. Uncertain if they are really one and the same person? What happened on or off set? Did Paul (inadvertently?) smash every hairdryer/blaster he got hold of? Did Janet like being murdered by Paul - and so heartlessly? Is there to be a new series/radio series/blockbuster Hollywood movie? Find out in here! Who would he know that you want to hear about? He seems to know everyone (or nearly). Name dropping? Paul says he expects us to expect this so he shamelessly drops names like confetti.
As Paul says somewhere in the book, he can't remember everything. So "everything you wanted to know" as I stated above is more of a conventional phrase than entirely accurate. There are just occasionally moments when I thought "but at the time you said......or I read.......or surely....?" I wonder if we might all send reminders of anything we think he forgot that the fans might like to be reminded of, or new fans would like to know about.
My number 1 forgotten moment is during the filming of Dombey & Son - (one of my favourite Dickens and so well filmed).
Paul was asked to place a "look" on Carker's face when he is acknowledging his love for Dombey's daughter and she of course loathes him. Paul said "I have just one look, here it is," or words to that effect. (This was reported to us somewhere/sometime. Mind you, I don't agree that Paul has only one look...)
I never forgot that look. It's wonderful. My heart turned over as the saying goes and still does when I think about it. It made nasty Carker human which he isn't in the novel.
Another book, Paul?
I did manage in the end to put "You're Him Aren't You?" down, tho' it was difficult and I shall reread it soonish.
BACK TO NEWS PAGE