Books: Biography - Brief lives

Peter Cook: A Biography by Harry Thompson, Hodder pounds 18.99. "I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war." This unforgettable moment from Beyond the Fringe appears in Thompson's lively and penetrating biography of the late lamented Peter Cook - one of the saddest of all sad clowns - to illustrate how much of Cook's humour was autobiographical. He came from a long line of colonial servants who neglected their children in the service of their sovereign, and, like Kipling, felt you should "bind your sons to exile / To serve your captives' need." This particular son, however, escaped with his emotional life in tatters but his talent intact: by the time he was 28 he had reached the zenith of his profession as comedian and satirist, but failed marriages and soured professional partnerships (notably, with Dudley Moore) led to disillusion and alcoholism. In detailing the bumpy path of this brilliant, compulsive, desperately insecure near- genius, Thompson's narrative is fresh with the intimate testimony of friends, ex-colleagues and family (right: Cook with his daughters Daisy and Lucy).

Daddy's Girl: Young Girls and Popular Culture by Valerie Walkerdine, Macmillan pounds 37.50/pounds 11.99. Not so much a biography of an individual as of a type: Valerie Walkerdine investigates the image of the "tiny, innocent heart of our culture" (see the cover picture, on the left). "Thank heavens ..." went the words of the song, and certainly filmmakers, advertisers and anybody wanting to sell products with a squeaky-clean image has been gleefully grateful, over the years, for the fact that the precarious balance between sentimentality and ambivalent eroticism can be so easily summoned with a picture of a pretty female child. The effects of such images - in film, television, magazines, advertising, cartoons, etc - on real-life, working- class girls, whose reality may be quite different, is the subject of this readable study, and leads to some fascinating and disturbing conclusions.

Simenon: A Biography by Pierre Assouline, trs Jon Rothschild, Chatto pounds 20. What does everyone know about Georges Simenon? That he slept with 10,000 women, of course - or claimed that he did. You can waste a lot of time on the mental arithmetic required to work out how much of an 86- year life that would take up. Nonetheless, Simenon (left, with pipe) managed to squeeze in a few other activities, as this full and vivid portrait shows. Everything he did displayed both speed and quantity: at 22, he was writing three novels a month; his autobiographical works ran to no less than 25 volumes. He would write eight chapters in as many days, pause briefly, then spend three days revising - result: one book. He was once compelled to admit to his wife that he had been cheating on her daily for 20 years, but when, in 1945, he was looking for a new secretary he met the woman of whom he later wrote: "For the first time I was to know the thing they call passion, a veritable fever that some psychologists consider a malady ... I who didn't believe in love at first sight." So it can happen to anyone.

Joyce & Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham, Hodder pounds 20. These inseparable friends wrote to each other for half a century, making an acute picture not only of two unusual careers - for Joyce, stage and film work replete with celebrities, for Virginia writing and broadcasting - but also of British social history (large events like war, abdication and moon landing, small ones like the changing pronunciation of upper- class vowels). The voices are inimitable: in 1943, working for ENSA, Grenfell (below) writes "Darling Ginnie, I'm indulging in the unusual beauty of a morning in bed. Got the curse yesterday morning and did 2 enormous Lunatic Asylums in the afternoon and evening, so I felt a little luxury was merited ..."

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada