At last, some good news for Britain's beleaguered publishing industry – our insatiable appetite for show business autobiographies is on the wane. A market worth over £50 million a few years ago raised less than half of that last year, and tougher times have produced a better crop of titles. Most of them are still pap, of course, but amid the stocking-fillers are some proper books by proper writers – people off the telly who can really write, and have something worthwhile to say.
Paul O'Grady is an old hand at this game. Still Standing: The Savage Years (Bantam, £20) is his third volume of memoirs, and only takes him to the brink of stardom. At this rate, he should be good value for at least three more. This book charts the evolution of his bitchy Birkenhead alter ego, Lily Savage, from mute drag act to heroically catty comedienne. Along the way, he paints a vivid picture of the 1980s, from the Toxteth Riots to the death of numerous friends from Aids. His relationship with his mother is wonderfully observed, and his unsentimental description of her death is intensely moving. O'Grady has a playwright's ear for dialogue, and his salty descriptions of raucous gigs in rundown pubs are a rude delight.
Lee Mack is probably best known for his sitcom, Not Going Out, but like O'Grady is primarily a first-class comic. His autobiography, Mack the Life (Bantam, £18.99), has all the cheerful candour of one of his barnstorming shows. A string of dead-end jobs is the best apprenticeship for a good comic (and a good author, for that matter) and Lee has had his fair share, from bingo caller to mobile DJ. The conversations with his psychiatrist that conclude each chapter are particularly funny and insightful - like pilot scripts for a prospective sitcom. Mack has polished this narrative until it shines, and his book is a joy to read, full of homespun wisdom and hilarious asides.
Is It Just Me? (Hodder & Stoughton, £20) is also Miranda Hart's first book, but rather than trawling through her first 38 years in chronological order, she's constructed this chatty memoir as a conversation between her 38- and 18-year-old selves. Eighteen chapters cover 18 topics, from dieting to dating, keeping navel-gazing to a minimum and giving her self-deprecating wit free rein. Her acute descriptions of disastrous job interviews and office faux-pas are priceless, and every parent will recognise her pin-sharp definitions of the four different types of school-gate mum. Yet the funniest showbiz book of the year isn't by a comedian - but by a rock journalist who drifted into showbusiness quite by chance. Going to Sea in a Sieve (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £18.99) by Danny Baker is a beautifully written memoir, describing his childhood on a South London council estate, and his first forays into journalism, on the seminal punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue and New Musical Express.
Baker recalls these halcyon days in novelistic detail, and his evocative book doubles as a social history of the Sixties and Seventies. Told in a breezy prose style, this jolly, heartfelt autobiography deserves the ultimate accolade – it actually leaves you impatient for volume two.
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