£18.99 Order for £17.09 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
My Name is Daphne Fairfax, by Arthur Smith Hutchinson
A showbiz memoir that dazzles
Wednesday 03 June 2009
"My name is Arthur Smith, unless there's anybody here from Streatham tax office, in which case I'm Daphne Fairfax." For as long as anyone can recall, that's been the opening line of Smith's stand-up routine – an amiable jumble of ad hoc observations and old groaners, delivered with the shambolic air of someone who has wandered onstage by accident. You would think he'd be the last comic to write a decent autobiography. But this is just about the best book I have read about "alternative" comedy – an intimate memoir that doubles as a vivid portrait of an age.
Smith was born in south London in the mid-Fifties, the son of a policeman. Contrary to the comic clichés, he had a happy home life and a good time at school. A bright grammar-school boy, he read comparative literature at the University of East Anglia and then bummed around in an unsuccessful band, an obscure sketch troupe and a moderately successful double-act, before becoming a solo stand-up. Too old to be a punk and too young to be a hippy, at last he found an art form to fit. More than any other comic, he summed up the anarchic spirit of alternative comedy. Smith also wrote wonderful plays for the theatre, radio and TV. Despite his blokeish iconoclasm, he was widely read and highly literate.
Then, a few years ago, he nearly died of pancreatitis, brought on by his drinking. He's frank about the details, but there's no real sense of why he did it. Maybe it was a mystery to him too. He gave up fairly easily, and his writing is even sharper as a result.
The man who emerges isn't all that different from Smith's persona, affable and self-deprecating. Yet the finest aspect of this heartfelt memoir isn't his acute self-portrait, but the pictures of those around him – from friends and family to fellow-comics. His talent has always been far too wayward for TV, but here he has done something much more remarkable: written a showbiz memoir that's worth reading.
TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp
Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s
'At times I thought he was me'film
Review: One Direction, Fourmusic
Review: The World of Ice and Firebooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sarah Vine criticises lesbian mother Jack Monroe: 'If she was unsure about her sexuality, she should have taken greater precautions'
- 2 Black Friday 2014: Opening times for Asda, John Lewis, PC World, GAME and Argos
- 3 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 4 Jeremy Hunt: 'I took my children to A&E because I didn't want to wait for GP appointment'
- 5 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
Black Mirror Christmas special: Jon Hamm episode will see people 'blocked' in real life, not just on Facebook
Zoella: YouTube sensation Zoe Sugg's debut novel set to become overnight bestseller
True Detective series 2: Rachel McAdams cast in female lead as 'no-nonsense' detective
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs
Naked free runner captured in breathtaking photographs above London's streets
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services