Ricky - The Autobiography by Ricky Tomlinson

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Ricky - The Autobiography by Ricky Tomlinson

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Ricky Tomlinson's lightly ghosted book is an enjoyable, interesting and honest read that won't require too much from you but will leave you gently but happily satisfied. However, don't bother if you are looking for celebrity gossip, as there isn't any. Bookbag finds this a distinct advantage.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2004
Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks
ISBN: 075153403X

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Few people have lived such eventful lives as Ricky Tomlinson. From plasterer to BNP activist, from trades unionist and strike organiser to unjustly convicted prison inmate, from ducker and diver to highly successful big and small screen actor, it does not seem as though there has been a dull moment in this man's life. Born in 1939, Tomlinson spent a Liverpudlian childhood playing among the "bombdies" or destroyed houses. After leaving school, he became a plasterer but spent all his spare time playing the local clubs in various bands and comedy sketch teams. His life centred, like many young men's lives, on the pub, his mates and meeting girls - with a view to seeing "how far he could go". After a brief flirtation with the BNP, Tomlinson discovered the trades union movement and really, that is where his story starts.

I am not usually one for celebrity memoirs, tiresome name-check fests that they are so often. However, I like Ricky Tomlinson, and I like much of his work. I loved The Royle Family - and in particular, Tomlinson's character, Jim Royle - flag bearer as it was of that observational, dialogue-driven comedy more recently typified by The Office. More than the comedy, though, I have liked some of his more serious, grittier roles, especially those in the Joffe film United Kingdom (Tomlinson's big break) and Dockers, Jimmy McGovern's story of the Liverpool dockers strike. Tomlinson appeared to me to be a good actor, an honest man and a passionate advocate of workers rights. The book, by and large, bears out this opinion, for Tomlinson's style is straightforward, blunt and genuinely revealing. It is also refreshingly free from luvvieism - Tomlinson does talk about his showbiz chums and it is entertaining, but he does so without showing off. Moreover, the acting and the good times take a back seat to Tomlinson's close friends and family... and to politics. It is this that sets Ricky apart from most other celebrity autobiographies and it is this that makes the book a pleasure to read.

I had heard that Tomlinson had once belonged to the BNP, and indeed this is hard to square with the actor who talks loudly and with regret about Old Labour and who went to prison for his trades union activities. Reading the book though, it starts to make more sense. Tomlinson has always placed - and still places - great store by being a working class man. He feels very strongly that the rights of workers have eroded steadily since the Thatcher years. At the time of his BNP involvement, he saw the culprits for this as immigrants. Today, he sees weak union leaders, government policies and the rise of the corporation as those to blame. However, at all times, his intention has been to support the worker. When you see this, his actions are more understandable, despite one's initial revulsion. He explains it better than I do:

"I am not the brightest guy in the world, but sitting on an upturned bucket on a building site, eating a cold cheese sarnie and worrying about where my next job would come from, some of the right wing arguments seemed dead easy to understand. All the ills of the country - the overcrowding and the lack of jobs - had been caused by too many people coming in. If we could stop the flood there would be plenty of houses and jobs to go round."

"It took another four years before I realised that by attacking immigration I was looking for a scapegoat for this country's ills. When you're at the bottom of the greasy pole, mired in shit, you're always looking for someone else to blame."

Sad, but true.

Even sadder is the story of Tomlinson's conviction for unlawful assembly after the first national building strike in 1972. He had been a member of the Wrexham Strike Action Committee and to this day he maintains that he, and his colleagues were innocent of any crime, and had been framed. (I should mention that Tomlinson and his colleagues served their time and the convictions still stand). Here, he comes across even now as genuinely shocked at what happened to him and how it ever happened at all in a democratic country such as the UK. Sadder even still, is his mention of the "liquid cosh", a cocktail of sedatives apparently given to difficult prisoners at the time, and which Tomlinson clearly believes accelerated his friend's Parkinson's disease.

These, though, are the rougher moments in the tumultuous story of a tumultuous life. There are many lighter moments. Tomlinson betrays very engaging love for and loyalty to his family and friends although at times, I did wonder if he did as good a job as he could of shouldering his responsibilities. He is though, unfailingly honest about that, too. In his youth, a shameless womaniser and serial adulterer, I did lack sympathy for him at times. Tomlinson, though, unfailingly lacks sympathy for himself, too. Ultimately, I was left with an impression of a flawed, but kindhearted man of consistent good humour and with the enviable capacity to be honest with himself and others. He is also clearly unfazed and unspoiled by either fame or wealth. His friends are still his friends from childhood. He lives in a relatively modest apartment only yards from his childhood home and he holidays in a caravan in Benidorm. I think most of us would be happy to know that celebrity and wealth would not ruin us and that we could hold on to both our roots and our friends. Big up to Tomlinson for that.

Tomlinson has credit as the author of the book, although I gather there was some light ghosting. Credit is due to his colleague in writing, for it seemed to me that the voice was authentic. Easy to read and engaging, I am not sorry that I read Ricky, although I feel that perhaps it is better borrowed than bought. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but probably I will not read it again. That, though, is possibly more revealing of my reading habits than the worthiness of the book. Recommended for fans of Tomlinson, devotees of celebrity memoirs in particular, but also for anyone who might - like me! - have otherwise turned up their noses, snobbishly. Do not be snobbish about Ricky Tomlinson - he wouldn't like it and he does not deserve it.

Five stars? My arse. Four, and like it.

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Buy Ricky - The Autobiography by Ricky Tomlinson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ricky - The Autobiography by Ricky Tomlinson at Amazon.com.


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beverley.kerry said:

I adore Ricky and this book. It shows that he is one of the ordinary people just like the characters he portrays.