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
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?