Book of the Week: Celeb-heavy trawl through monster's domain

Monster! True Tales from a

Show Biz Life

By Eric Hall

(Boxtree, pounds 12.99 hardback)

THE MOST astounding revelation in this book is that Freddie Mercury was daft about Eric Hall. Crazy. Head over heels. Monster soppy. So much so that he wrote "Killer Queen", the group's second single, for him. That line about having "long hair like Marie Antoinette"? Perhaps it should have read "long hair like Monster Antoinette."

In the end, Mercury cured himself of his lovesickness, according to Hall, by spending the night sitting by his bed watching him sleep. All this might seem a bit much to swallow, but then why should he lie about such matters? As Monster! traces the agent's progress from East End to West End, there's a Selig-like feel to proceedings. Just as Woody Allen's nondescript hero was FX-ed into all the most newsworthy events of the century, so Hall seems to have been a showbiz ever-present for 30 years.

He was childhood best friends with the young Marc Bolan (or Mark Feld, as he was then), and was nearly in the fatal car crash on Barnes Common. And there are detailed recollections of the last days of Tin Pan Alley, where Hall worked as a tea boy, spending his lunchtimes round a piano with young Reg Dwight and David Jones, who were to find rather more musical success as Elton John and David Bowie. Later, Hall fixed up the interview with Bill Grundy that thrust the Sex Pistols into the public arena.

After a chance meeting with Steve Perryman, Hall moved into football (perhaps that should read "moved in on football"), and rapidly (we are not told enough about how he built up his business) became the most famous agent in sport.

Let's be clear about this: from one perspective - the one enjoyed by the boss classes - agents are the most damaging blight on the modern game, a handy symbol for all things venal and tawdry. On the other hand, why shouldn't players, who were exploited for decades, enjoy the best professional representation? When David Pleat told Hall there was no need for him to broker Paul Walsh's move from Luton to Liverpool because he, Pleat, had already secured the best possible deal for Walsh, Hall, rightly, blew his top. You never hear his clients complain about him.

What could have been a fascinating account of the way in which agents have had such a profound impact is more a breezy, celeb-heavy trawl through the highlights of Hall's colourful career. So there's lots about the lovely Noelle Gordon, the lovely Tony Bennett, the late, great Frank Sinatra, the lovely Dorothy Squires and Barbara Windsor, even "the lovely" Alan Ball, which is stretching things a bit. But irritating though Hall's bumptiousness can be, it's impossible not to smile at his fizzing energy.

There are one or two mistakes - it was Tommy James and the Shondells, not the Chantells, who hit No 1 with "Mony Mony", for example, while I always thought the Jewish dish was "gefilte fish", not "gefiltafish". But the whole thing speeds by in 210 pages and 40 chapters - which reminded me of seeing the Ramones do 27 songs in 45 minutes.

I would have liked to have counted the number of name-drops in the book, the number of "monsters", the number of "ishes". That will have to wait for the Eric Hall concordance, sadly...