Book review / O'Toole of the trade
Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice by Peter O'Toole, Macmillan, pounds 20
Saturday 08 June 1996
He is a man who loves words, in the manner of his evident influences: Miller, Burgess, Beckett and Joyce seem likely to feature on O'Toole's Celtic-rhetorical checklist. Yet his voice is pre-eminently his own. Though it's self-indulgent and potentially tiresome, the fact that The Apprentice (mostly) avoids such offence derives entirely from the author's wayward charm. None, perhaps, has ever been more wayward, or more charming: Noel Coward, who always had something to say about everybody, told O'Toole after having seen Lawrence of Arabia that "if Lawrence had looked like him there would have been many more than twelve Turks queuing up for the buggering session". The unspoken hubris of O'Toole's handsomeness is plain in one album snap, portraying the ingenu with his languid arms wrapped round a bevy of Rada beauties. He was ever surrounded by an admiring circle.
Such indulgence may account for the high-flown prose of the book, and possibly for its theatrical sentimentality. (O'Toole deplores the pejorative connotations of "theatrical"; how he must hate the abusive term "luvvie"). There's an atavism and a nostalgia to his narrative of "this lovely hard old game that we... play" which, coming from a less larger-than-life figure, could cloy: O'Toole unashamedly parades his stage heroes, from the ever- present shade of Edmund Kean (whose biography runs through the book as a counterpoint to the author's adventures) to Rada tutors and whisky priests. Here's Albie Finney, Ronald Fraser, Kenneth "The Untouchable" Griffith, demigods and drinking partners, sketchily but vividly rendered; an evocative opening section has the ghosts of Peter Finch and Rudolph Nureyev dancing on O'Toole's coffee table. This orgiastic, wistful scene prepares us for the uproarious alcoholism and dissolute dialogue to follow. "Sweet laminated Jesus" is a frequent exhortation; an entire section is devoted to the laundering of "shitty knickers"; and a careering skid through Camden Town in a brake-failed old banger leaves our hero "shaking like a Sheffield dog shitting penknives". There's a laddishness here, a surprising precursor of the world of Loaded magazine, tempered with a vaguely camp Withnail and I irony. O'Toole's liberality fills the book with affectionate snapshots - but snapshots that seem to be fading even as he describes them.
Shuffled among these vignettes are discursive forays into dramatic technique and "The Play"; an ancient tuition, it might seem, to modern-day students. To abide by the rules and learn from one's masters came naturally to his generation. As for motivation: "Now, we all know that in the theatre the devil displays his pomp with so many charms and seductive graces that the most solid virtue can hardly withstand it, which is as good and gamey a reason as you may need for being a lively member of the audience; and it will do quite nicely, thank you, for my being an actor."
Elsewhere, O'Toole's potted theatrical histories can seem too obviously the product of research at the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection; and occasionally one yearns for some straightforwardness and less "dawn- plucked fungi", "banjaxed" pupils, and Cockney rhyming slang (here always given its literal translation).
Yet these are not serious criticisms, especially to admirers of O'Toole's first volume of memoirs. Like many successful players of his game, O'Toole has re-invented himself, on this occasion as a fine writer. And by progressing so slowly through his autobiography, O'Toole gives his fans much to look forward to.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant