A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies

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A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: This second volume of memoirs from one of the most prolific and versatile writers and journalists is by turns funny, modest, warm, and in the later chapters concerned with the final illness of his wife, novelist Margaret Forster, very poignant. He comes across as a thoroughly likeable man, remarkably unfazed by his achievements, and this is as charming an autobiography as you are likely to find anywhere.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: July 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1471161292

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Although I knew the name Hunter Davies before I picked this book up, I was unaware just how pivotal a figure of the Swinging Sixties Hunter Davies really was. Take him, Harold Wilson and a certain musical quartet from Liverpool out of the decade, and you are left with a bit of a vacuum.

Davies has already told the story of his early days in a first volume of memoirs. This sequel opens in 1960, the year he married, and covers the saga up to his wife's death and funeral in 2016. In addition to both titles of autobiography, he has written, edited and compiled almost another hundred titles, comprising fiction, non-fiction, reference and the occasional ghost-writing job for the likes of John Prescott (see below) and Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne. He has also been editor of the Sunday Times, written columns for several papers over the years about everything from his family to stamp collecting, and set up his own publishing company to produce guide books. His wife, Margaret Forster, was also a well-established novelist and biographer, and their eldest daughter Caitlin, followed in their footsteps. That makes a formidable family of wordsmiths.

In spite of his achievements, Davies comes across as a delightfully unassuming man. An inveterate workaholic and a successful family man, yet cautious enough to be unashamedly careful with money, he evidently led a very happy life with his wife and children divided between North London and Lakeland, with regular holidays in the West Indies. There were occasional downs in his writing career, such as sackings from one or two of his newspapers without adequate explanation, but he tells it all in a very matter-of-fact way, making light of what he treats as no more than minor setbacks with every chance of new opportunities to be seized which will compensate. He writes of his love of football, his fascination with The Beatles which resulted in him becoming their one and only officially authorised biographer, and the joys of living in two completely different (in more ways than one) parts of the country.

Most importantly, he lets us into his family life. Margaret seems to have been very different from him in personality. He was easygoing, loved being with people and part of the hum of society life. She was an intensely cautious, private person who was punctilious at answering fan mail but by and large kept her writing to herself, even to the extent of hiding her work from the children when they came into the kitchen unexpectedly, and refused to take part in interviews and promotional activity, or be seen at parties with the great and the good. A certain amount of arm-twisting was called for before she would let herself be talked into meeting the Beatles, or Tony and Cherie Blair at a Downing Street reception. As a fervent socialist, she refused to accompany him and the children to Buckingham Palace when he went to receive his OBE from the Queen. She did everything the time-honoured way – producing her manuscripts by hand, shunning a computer, and then sending everything off to be typed when she had finished.

Sadly, there was a fight against the great enemy, one which everybody loses in the end – the big C. Margaret was attacked by it twice, and made an apparent recovery the first time, but it returned several years later. The chapters dealing with how illness gradually sapped her energy and mobility until there was no alternative for her but to go into a hospice, her day-by-day decline, and the aftermath, are moving indeed. Almost her last words to him are the closing ones in the final chapter – 'You'll be fine…'

This is as charming a volume of memoirs as you are likely to find anywhere. It is by turns funny, modest, warm, and in the later chapters very poignant. Davies comes across as a thoroughly likeable man, remarkably unfazed by everything he has done.

If you enjoy this – and I have little doubt you will - we also recommend Prezza: My Story: Pulling No Punches by John Prescott, one of the books which Davies ghosted; an account of the financial affairs of the group with which he will forever be associated, You Never Give Me Your Money: The Battle for the Soul of the Beatles by Peter Doggett; a brief look at the age in which he originally made his name, The Sixties by Jenny Diski; and of course, anything written by his wife, notably Private Papers or The Battle for Christabel.

Buy A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies at Amazon.com.

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