The first rule of hackery, to use Hunter Davies's inelegant word, is that "anything and everything can be turned into copy". He makes the point while telling us of a family tortoise that would come into the house and use the polished kitchen floor as a skating rink. "Tortee" was processed into a story for the children's TV programme Jackanory, voiced by Patricia Routledge.
Again, when his eight-year-old daughter told him that she wished she could become 16 without going through the intervening years, he wrote a children's story about a magic coat that would allow Flossie Teacake to do just that. From this story sprang four more Flossie Teacake books. For some years, his family life was documented in a series of columns for Punch that spawned a television sitcom and ended only when his children complained that they were being teased about them at school.
Davies's other interests and obsessions have found their way into publications as diverse as The Mail on Sunday, the New Statesman, The Independent and Stamp News, as well as more than 80 books. Among them are the topics highlighted in the title of this lively memoir. The Beatles and football have provided material for around a dozen of Davies's books; but fans of either, if they judge a volume by its cover, might feel cheated by this one.
Although there is a picture of Paul and Linda McCartney on the back, visiting the Davies's holiday home in Portugal, the Beatles do not enter the narrative until the halfway stage. Even then it is only for a few pages, and the revelations never extend far beyond letting us know that Paul was "excellent with all the children".
As for football, it proves the most lucrative of all Davies's subjects when he is commissioned to write the biographies of Paul Gascoigne (twice) and now Wayne Rooney, 50 years his junior. "He looked very young and about two inches taller than I expected" - but, aside from that, no surprises here either.
Only the last word of the title reflects the real subject: how a lad from a council estate in Carlisle rose via Durham University and The Sunday Times to an immensely productive career as journalist and author. On the way he married Margaret Forster, a friend from schooldays and from a similar background, who also became a successful writer. It is a notably happy marriage, even if she comes over as rather forbidding. "She has no interest in what other people think," Davies writes - which might explain why she was once thrown out of a dinner party for criticising Antonia Fraser, who was not present.
As Davies tells it, his has been a life of sustained achievement, if marred towards the end by illness and family trauma. He skips entertainingly through its high points but has little appetite for reflection. This is a pity, because his rare attempts at self-analysis are the most interesting parts, as when he ponders the difficulties for parents with roots in the working class who find themselves bringing up middle-class children. As a writer he is assiduous, inquiring and almost indecently industrious. At times he slips into archness and even smugness - but then, he has plenty to be smug about.
Michael Leapman's life of Inigo Jones is published by ReviewReuse content