Foster Kid by Paul Barber

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Foster Kid by Paul Barber

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Harrop
Reviewed by Paul Harrop
Summary: A no-frills story of success against the odds. Maybe too episodic and sketchy to be a really fulfilling read, but occasionally inspiring nevertheless.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-1847440358

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Paul Barber isn't a household name. However his face is known to millions who've watched Only Fools and Horses or The Full Monty. The Liverpool-born actor's distinctive features have graced these, as well as many other stage, television and film productions over the past 30 or so years.

Familiar, rather than famous he may be. But even that is little short of a miracle, given the rough hand that fate dealt him. As he relates in Foster Kid, he was born Patrick (Paddy) Barber in 1951 to a white mother and a Sierra Leonian father. His father died while Patrick was still a baby and, for six years, his mother raised him and his four siblings in a single room in a poor part of Liverpool before she herself fell ill and died.

What followed, and what forms the bulk of this book, was nine years of constant upheaval as he and his brothers and sister were separated and shunted around a series of convents, children's homes and foster families. Parental love was replaced by savage violence at worst and indifference at best. His understandable responses ranged from the unconscious - in the form of bedwetting - through to more overt rebellion, truanting, poor academic performance, petty thievery, and running away in desperate bids to connect with his real family.

In plain, unadorned prose, Barber tells of the beatings and the racism which dogged his formative years and his later life. His young self comes across as lost and confused, with few if any adults taking a genuine interest in his future. With a kind of nobility, he avoids self-pity and moralising, but the implications are clear. The conclusions one draws about the failings of the care system, and the attitudes of society in general, are uncomfortable to say the least.

So when, after a series of menial jobs, Barber finally gets a lucky break into showbusiness, it's heartbreaking to see him nearly turn it down in a misguided act of loyalty to a friend. Mercifully, he reconsiders, and his path to richly-deserved, if fitful, success is secured.

Despite the traumas it describes, Foster Kid is an easy read, told simply with flashes of wit, and little to divert the reader from the key moments in Barber's life. He confines his adulthood and career to a few brief chapters comprising mainly anecdotes and auditions. He avoids any insight into his adult relationships, presumably out of a desire to protect the privacy of those still living. But this does give the latter part of the book a sparse, impersonal feel.

If Barber gives away little of himself, you can hardly begrudge him his right to a private life after his wreck of a childhood. Equally it seems churlish to denigrate any lack of artistry or finesse in the writing. You feel that he deserves every bit of recognition or credit, and this book is hard to criticise as a result. Admittedly, that makes it doubly sad that, were it not for the current vogue for books about traumatic upbringings, this unpretentious memoir would presumably not have seen the light of day.

That would have been a pity because, although it may not be in the front rank of celebrity memoirs, Foster Kid is probably one of the most modest and decent examples. It's worth a look by anyone who values an unaffected and ultimately inspiring demonstration that a worthwhile life can be hewn from the most unpromising of raw materials.

A very similar, if more sophisticated, tale of an actor who came from a gentler foster home in the same period, is Everybody's Daughter, Nobody's Child by Jane Lapotaire. For another Scouse actor's story, try Ricky - The Autobiography by Ricky Tomlinson.

Buy Foster Kid by Paul Barber at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Foster Kid by Paul Barber at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Foster Kid by Paul Barber at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Foster Kid by Paul Barber at Amazon.com.

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