Shades of the green room

Sheridan Morley revels in a dose of theatrical gossip; Scratch an Actor by Ned Sherrin, Sinclair Stevenson, pounds 15.99 Sherrin's Year by Ned Sherrin, Virgin, pounds 16.99

It is going to be still more difficult than usual this Christmas to walk into any bookshop without stumbling over bits of Ned Sherrin: no less than five books out this month alone, of which three need not detain us long - two paperback reprints of his recent anthologies, an Oxford Book of Humorous Quotations (pounds 7.99) and Theatrical Anecdotes (Virgin, pounds 7.99), plus Remembrance (Michael Joseph, pounds 17.50), a collection of memorial service readings chosen and introduced by Sherrin in his role as The Oldie's memorial correspondent.

The other two books are new: his first novel, and a diary of 1996. The novel, Scratch an Actor, ("and you'll find an actress" is the other half of that Dorothy Parker quotation) is a backstage chronicle set in Coronation Year, full of showbiz gossip for which a fictional background has been chosen as Sherrin's only alternative to the libel suits.

But let's not forget that Sherrin's first great partner, Caryl Brahms, gave him a sharp training in the art of the comic theatrical novel and, 40 years later, her master-class has paid off. Sherrin has a precise wit and an invaluable green room recall: the ghosts of the Redgraves (notably Sir Michael's father Roy) and the shadows of Gielgud and many other Shaftesbury Avenue figures from the Fifties hover about this story of an actor-manager trying to cobble together a musical out of Wilde's An Ideal Husband.

But Scratch An Actor is more than just a fictional recycling of green room gossip: Sherrin is sharp enough to come up with a plot all his own, only using other people's half-told tales when they genuinely fit his narrative. All in all, this is one of the best comic novels of the theatre I've read, and just about the most accurate.

His diary, surprisingly for so careful a chronicler of stage stories, is sometimes a little less meticulous; some appalling proof reading gives us mis-spellings of Noel Willman, Benn Levy and George Stiles and a lengthy story about Paul Scofield and Gladys Cooper in The Holly & The Ivy might work better if either of them had ever appeared in it, together or separately: the play in question here was, ironically, Wynyard Brown's A Question of Fact.

On the upside, we get some wonderful examples of Ned's quixotic ebullience, the unbelievable information that Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth once starred in the South African Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and a daily log of footlights, first nights and other frolics which will be of infinite value to any 21st-century social historian trying to assess what it was like to be around the West End in the late 90s. Like Agate's Egos, the Sherrin diaries deserve to run into at least nine or ten volumes, so full are they of great gossip and surprising revelation: Ned here outs himself with commendably casual references to "feasting with panthers" (as Wilde always described his gay encounters) but he is closer to Chips Channon than Alan Clark in his private priorities. A good party, a good play, a good meal and only then, perhaps, a bit of the other.

It would have taken most of us five years to get through a diary like this and remain as buoyant at the end of it: and Sherrin is 65 and comes from a farm in Somerset, almost the only facts you won't discover in this revealing chronicle.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
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.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor