BANTAM £18.99 £17.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Margrave of the Marshes by John Peel and Sheila Ravenscroft

In the midst of the large part of Margrave of the Marshes which was completed after her husband's death, Sheila Ravenscroft quotes a 1977 diary entry, in which Peel responds to criticism of his refusal to make more fuss on air about the death of Elvis Presley. "I prefer to remember those who have died in their proper context," he wrote, "filling some greater or lesser niche in everyday life, rather then distorting my memory of them in a welter of terminal sentiment."

Many aspects of the glut of multi-media hagiography which has followed Peel's passing have inclined one to think "Amen to that." Not least the determination of the very Radio 1 bosses who'd been itching to get rid of him for years to establish themselves as keepers of his eternal flame. But while there's something undeniably appealing about the idea of Peel reaching out from beyond the grave to wipe away the thick layer of bullshit with which his legacy is becoming encrusted, a post-deathbed conversion to unadorned truth-telling would have ultimately represented a betrayal of everything he held dear.

This was, after all, the man who began his showbiz career pretending to be a friend of the Beatles in order to further his sexual education at the hands - and other parts - of semi-innocent Texan high-school girls, and ended it as Radio 4's cosy custodian of the pleasures of the domestic hearth. And the huge DNA-cluster of contradictions from which Peel's identity was constructed (public school educated man of the people, counter-cultural sage and establishment figure, millionaire ally of struggling musicians, tireless enthusiast and unrepentant curmudgeon) finds an aptly perplexing reflection in this fragmentary and multi-faceted volume.

After a suitably tender introduction from his four children, the first - Peel-penned - section of the book rather suffers from its author's long years of preparatory hard labour at the coalface of his own mythology. Even headline-grabbing revelations about the rape and sexual abuse he suffered at Shrewsbury school come swaddled in that familiar protective layer of gentle wit acquired from his close reading of James Thurber and P G Wodehouse. Then, on page 165, Peel's younger self is left standing on the threshold of a Mexican brothel by his autobiographer's untimely passing. At this juncture, the story of the man who had still yet to acquire the name by which everyone later came to know him is entrusted to the second wife he would not meet for a further six years. There seem to be two ways Margrave of the Marshes can go from here. It can either sweep the detritus of Peel's decadent 1960s - the 15-year-old first wife was only the start of it - firmly under the carpet. Or it can add to that burgeoning biographical sub-genre in which the less famous spouse of a much-loved public figure (cf John Bayley and Iris Murdoch, Sheila Hancock and John Thaw, Pamela Stephenson and Billy Connolly) sells more copies of a book about them than anyone would have thought possible by being more candid about their flaws than decency should have allowed.

It is much to Sheila Ravenscroft's credit that she takes neither of these courses. True, the two-thirds of this book to which she has put her name does contain the odd bit of gentle posthumous score-settling: "Occasions when John's needs didn't square with those of the children were particularly tough for him," apparently. But the overall tone manages to be both tender and acute, and Peel's real feelings emerge much more clearly without the semi-ironic gloss which he was no doubt planning to apply to them. In fact, the despairing tone of another diary entry ("The waist of Peel moves inexorably outward. Eleven stone eleven pounds this morning - where will it end?") combines with an unabashedly lyrical description of life onboard Radio London's pirate ship to sum up perfectly his life's opposing poles of private melancholy and professional exultation.

In the rough notes to his agent which are printed as an appendix, Peel threatens "as many pages as you like of saccharine stuff about babies" and "real danger of book degenerating into a hymn of praise to Sheila", so no one can say the finished volume's well-developed family scrapbook element is not what he would have wanted. But the fascinating thing about Margrave of the Marshes is that, far from representing the final triumph of Peel's Home Truths self over his Radio 1 self, it ultimately underlines the one truth that Peel - self-deprecating egotist that he was - understood better than anyone else, which is that the thing that really mattered was the music.

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
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.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable