Mick 'n' Keith 'n' Richard 'n' Liz 'n' Twiggy

Ray Connolly enjoys a romp through Swinging London; Everyone's Gone To The Moon by Philip Norman Hutchinson, pounds 15.99
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The Independent Culture
"But who is it based on?" is one of the most tiresome questions facing any novelist when a new book appears: "Who are these characters in real life?"

I suspect that at this very moment Philip Norman is having a wearying time explaining how the characters in Everyone's Gone To The Moon, his affectionate and highly amusing roman-a-clef about London in the Sixties, are not all based entirely on his former colleagues on the Sunday Times Magazine.

It won't be an easy job, and Harold Evans, Godfrey Smith, Francis Wyndham, Peter Crookston, and possibly Susan Raven and Molly Parkin, not to mention - although this is bit stretched - Tina Brown (she wasn't even there then), must be currently bemused to be discovering the parts of their personalities which have proved such excellent raw material.

Nor has Norman made his defence any easier by making his book a factual history of Swinging London, using snatches of real interview quotes from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Burtons -Richard and Liz, that is, with just about everyone else from Bailey to Duffy, Shrimpton to Twiggy, and Willie Rushton to Peter Cook, having walk-on parts.

The research is impressive, but, more so is the fact that, Everyone's Gone To The Moon remains a novel, using the devices of fiction to capture the feel of the time far more successfully than any number of histories and biographies.

The story is of a provincial boy journalist, Louis Brennan, whose similarities to a young Philip Norman are too abundant to list, who comes to London in 1966, and who, by virtue of his job as a young writer on the Sunday Dispatch Magazine, mingles, if not with the great and the good, then certainly with the fab and the frothy.

Like a trendy Zelig, he's everywhere: in the royal box at the World Cup Final; ear-wigging Harold Wilson; at The Beatles' recording session for "A Day In The Life"; helping discover Brian Epstein dead; witnessing Ronnie Kray in bullying action; looking into a gun barrel with Richard Burton; even spending the weekend with Mick Jagger and Keith Richard when they were busted and Marianne Faithfull was wearing only a skin rug. (Apparently, it isn't true about the Mars bar, by the way. Sorry!)

At first he is dazzled by his mentor, Jack Shildrick, a typographically brilliant, campaigning editor from the north who shakes the Sunday Dispatch inside out, and flattered by the snooty magazine team. But before long he is caught up in office politics and in love with the sort of girl who "goes around accidentally tripping men up and just happening to fall directly underneath them".

The plot could have been stronger for a book as long as this: much of the story is made up of amusing anecdotes which don't do much more than fill in the gaps. Not that it matters much, because any narrative weakness is massively compensated for by Philip Norman's almost sensuous attention to detail: there's the creamy foolscap envelope with the EC4 postmark and electric typeface which brings him to London; the noise of 88,000 fans at the World Cup Final "like sea-sucked shingle"; the squalor of pretty girls' bedrooms; the bleak, dreariness of Shildrick's married life depicted chillingly in a dinner of frozen peas and tinned fruit salad; and the overall sensuous extravagance of the time, the dandy clothes, the wines and the three-hour lunches.

Some things niggle. Too much information is given by way of dialogue, there is a promiscuity with names and events to the point of overkill, and Twiggy was never vulgar as Philip Norman makes her. But there is much to recommend: lots of good jokes, although in truth the merry daftness of much of the Sixties almost defeats satire, and a touching sub-plot about our hero's grandparents in the Terry and June world of South London.

As John Lennon might have said, you should have been there. If you weren't you can do a lot worse than read Philip Norman's book. because, in the end, it was only the Mars bar which disappointed.