Phil Daniels: Class Actor by Phil Daniels

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Phil Daniels: Class Actor by Phil Daniels

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Reminiscences of the Cockney actor best-known for his roles in ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Eastenders’ and as the voice of Blur’s ‘Parklife’
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1847376206

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If we were asked to nominate the archetypal Cockney actor on large or small screen over the last twenty years or so, Phil Daniels would undoubtedly come high on the list. Born in Islington in 1958 and raised in Kings Cross, he was a graduate of the Anna Scher Theatre in the 1970s.

At one time, he seemed to be heading for a musical career. However a stint with progressive rock band Renoir led to nothing (rather sidelined by the advent of punk rock, he claims), and the shortlived Phil Daniels & The Cross, guided by managers Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley (the partnership responsible for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich’s success in the 1960s) stalled after it was apparent that his future lay in acting. Roles in the cult film ‘Scum’, and more importantly in ‘Quadrophenia’ , ‘Breaking Glass’, and Mike Leigh’s ‘Meantime’, soon made him a household name. Later on he became part of the Britpop scene with his cameo spoken performance on Blur’s ‘Parklife’, and for a year or so one of the stars of ‘Eastenders’ in the role of Kevin Wicks, leaving the show in 2007.

There have recently been some memoirs of actors and comedians born in the 1950s which tend to read like a litany of teenage rebellion, drunkenness, brilliant career and not much else. Daniels is honest enough to admit to the odd self-indulgence, teenage leftism and rebellion against parental authority, but in this book it never becomes wearing. He has rubbed shoulders with several famous names throughout his life, but the book never descends into a litany of namedropping. I was amused to read of Kenneth Williams being a near-neighbour of the family during his childhood, with Phil’s father as caretaker regularly having to go and fix things in the ever-demanding comedian’s flat, accompanied by regular outbursts of ‘Oooh, Mr Daniels…’ As well as the normal adolescent misbehaviour, there were the music and football enthusiasms (he’s a Chelsea supporter), which add interest to the story.

On the political side, he comments in a matter-of-fact way about his left of centre views during the Thatcher years and the inevitable arguments with his parents. From the perspective of middle age, he makes the observation that by the time we reach the age of our parents, we are more likely to see things their way. (Can any of us say we haven’t been like that?) He admits to being less militant as he grows older, noting that the way things have developed in this country makes it very difficult to think of yourself as a socialist now.

He also writes amusingly of one or two dealings with the police, such as being pulled in for riding a bike while under the influence after drinking with a group of plain-clothes coppers, and later getting himself out of a spot of trouble on condition he was able to get them an autograph from Sting (of the other Police) which they could auction for charity. He (Daniels, that is) duly obliged, having autographed a copy of the group’s first album himself. (Almost thirty years later, somebody now knows their precious investment is actually a Sexton Blake).

As recent thespian and showbiz autobiographies go, this is definitely one of the better ones. Daniels tells his story in a down-to-earth manner, never sensationalizing things, yet never sounding dull.

Our thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending Bookbag a review copy.

If you enjoy this, you might also be interested in Dear Fatty by Dawn French, or Look Back in Hunger by Jo Brand.

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