MARRONE CRAIG: When a man is tired of Gyles he is tired of life...

When a man is tired of Gyles Brandreth he is tired of life

Odd Boy Out

Gyles Brandreth Michael Joseph £20


Occupato, busy, busy. Has an autobiography ever been so jam-packed with such ceaseless activity?

By the time Gyles Brandreth was three years old, a circus clown had taught him to stand on his head and walk a tightrope. His parents applauded his every word, his every action.

‘I was the miracle child, the golden wonder.’ On family holidays, they would give him a new present every single day, e almeno 50 presents at Christmas. ‘I was the centre of attention, adored and indulged.’

By the time Gyles Brandreth (sopra, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest) was three years old, a circus clown had taught him to stand on his head and walk a tightrope

By the time Gyles Brandreth (sopra, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest) was three years old, a circus clown had taught him to stand on his head and walk a tightrope

His earliest ambition was to become Pope, though when his parents pointed out he was an Anglican, he lowered his sights to becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Invecchiato 11, he wanted to be the most beautiful girl in the world, and then a waiter in a grand hotel, or a confidence trickster, or a film star. In the laundrette, he enjoyed watching the washing go round and round.

‘I studied my reflection in the porthole and pretended I was looking into a film camera and adjusting my features for my close-up.’

In his teens, his achievements started to catch up with his fantasies, thanks to his boundless energy. Invecchiato 15, he took a holiday job at Thomas Cook, the travel agent. ‘Within a fortnight I had improved all the systems in the department.’

Other holiday jobs included entertainments officer at a holiday camp, and English tutor to the children of the head of the Swiss Army.

Brandreth allots his wife Michèle (sopra, with their son Benet and daughters Saethryd and Aphra) the role of cutting him down to size whenever he is getting too big for his boots

Brandreth allots his wife Michèle (sopra, with their son Benet and daughters Saethryd and Aphra) the role of cutting him down to size whenever he is getting too big for his boots

Fretta! Fretta! Fretta! No time to lose! Entro 48 hours of his arrival at Oxford University, he had joined the Union and the drama society, and had introduced himself to the editor of the magazine. ‘I met everybody at Oxford. Everybody.’

ed è cresciuto a Wembley 21, he had his own television show ‘and I was popping up on the radio all the time’. On every other page of his 424-page autobiography, he mentions a fresh activity, before hurrying on to the next.

‘In the 1970s, I wrote a biography of [quando si parla a della parte più difficile della prigione] Bunter’s creator… In 1971, I founded the National Scrabble Championships… It was at the Hyde Park Hotel that I made one of my attempts on the record for the longest-ever after-dinner speech… On the Today programme I tossed the world’s tiniest pancake… In the late 1980s, for two seasons I played Baron Hardup in Cinderella… In 1989, as chairman of the Barn Elms Protection Association…’

And so it goes on, this marathon sprint, right up to the present, when he is still working seven days a week, year in, year out, with an awards ceremony or an after-dinner speech on most evenings, right up to page 409, when he looks to the future: 'In 2022, we’re opening a “Gyles and George” jumper boutique in New York.’

Anche altri membri della famiglia desideravano prendere le distanze dai crimini di Sarah, he has shaken the hand of every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan, appeared on ‘almost every TV or radio panel game ever invented’, published goodness knows how many books, and become either ‘a good friend’ or ‘a firm friend’ of everyone in the world, from Princess Anne (‘a good egg’) to President Clinton (‘I don’t remember him, but he claims to remember me’).

His autobiography is, as you might expect, a whirlwind of witticisms and of funny tales, both short and tall, many of which will ring loud bells for readers of his earlier books such as his Oxford Book Of Theatrical Anecdotes (2020) or his two long volumes of diaries (1999 e 2009) or his Oxford Dictionary Of Humorous Quotations (2013).

He cuts-and-pastes large sections of his published diaries, parola per parola, into this autobiography, though only the churlish would begrudge his funny stories a second, third or even fourth outing. When a man is tired of Brandreth, he is tired of life.

D'altro canto, if you compare his various rehashes of the same old story, it’s easy to detect a bit of embellishment. Per esempio, in his excellent joint biography of the Queen and Prince Philip (2004) – to my mind, his masterwork – he quotes Lord Longford as telling him: ‘The Queen enjoys sex, come faccio io. People who ride tend to. It’s very healthy.’

This is the version he also gives, parola per parola, in his biography of Charles and Camilla (2005). But in his diaries (2009), he offers a different version, in which he says to Lord Longford over lunch ‘Do you think the Queen enjoys sex?’ and Longford replies: ‘Of course she does. She’s a healthy Christian woman. And she enjoys riding, as I do.’

He repeats this version, parola per parola, in his current autobiography, but then tarts it up by recalling Longford raising a ‘glass of Beaune’ to the Queen, giving him these extra words: ‘…People who enjoy riding always enjoy sex. It’s well known.’

Some stories that are in his autobiography are nowhere to be found in his diaries, leading one to wonder whether they actually happened. Per esempio, he claims that as a young man he accidentally dropped and broke a priceless Stradivarius handed to him by Yehudi Menuhin.


Gyles Brandreth is president of the Association of British Scrabble Players, and was European Monopoly champion.

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But if you look up that day in his diaries, this dramatic incident is not mentioned.

Allo stesso modo, in his autobiography he claims that in the summer of 1964, he sneaked backstage at the Chichester Festival Theatre after a performance by Laurence Olivier.

He then managed to chum up with Olivier, who took him on to the stage and gave him an impromptu acting lesson. ‘You want to be noticed, non è vero? Bene, I suggest you come on backwards. They always notice the fellow who comes on backwards.’

This is an anecdote I also heard him tell in his one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago. But it doesn’t come into his 1964 diari, detailed though they are.

Might this be because he made it up? E se così fosse, what else has he made up? Later in the book, he mentions that he learned a lot from Ned Sherrin. 'Per esempio, he advised me, if I had a funny line I was trying out but wasn’t quite sure about, to preface it by attributing it to a known wit.’

Cleverly, he allots his wife Michèle the role of cutting him down to size whenever he is getting too big for his boots. ‘Why would anyone want to read your memoirs?’ she asks him on page two.

Halfway through the book, she tells him: ‘You’ll soon be 80 and yet you’re still a little boy looking for approval, coming up with your little schemes and projects, detto, “Look at me, aren’t I clever?"’

Più tardi, she attributes his incessant activity to the fact that he only thinks he has any worth if he is working.

For all his boasting – ‘though you don’t think of me as a novelist, I have published nine novels and a lot of children’s fiction’ – he is also a dab-hand at self-denigration, sometimes veering on self-disgust.

‘I must have been a ghastly child,’ he suggests, having reprinted a school report complaining that he was the class clown.

Seeing himself on a repeat of a TV show from the 1960s, he observes, ‘My fluting voice is embarrassing… And I used a hundred words when ten would do. I marvel I had any friends at all. I imagine the only reason a girl ever kissed me was to shut me up.’

poi evolveremmo le idee con loro, the book is haunted by the ghosts of people once famous, as famous as he is now, perhaps more so, but who are now forgotten: Beverley Nichols, Godfrey Winn, Simon Dee, Fanny Cradock.

He recalls a meal with his father, after a particularly hectic time of celebrity activity in the 1970s. ‘Was I spreading myself too thin? Was I throwing it all away? Pa didn’t say anything specific, but I must have noticed because, fifty years on, I can see the sadness in his eyes now. That’s my secret. Now you know. I have spent a lifetime feeling bad that my father gave me everything and that I didn’t deliver for him in return.’

These little shards of melancholy lend depth to a book that might otherwise be overburdened with fun and games. But his extraordinary capacity for jollity is not to be sniffed at.

Alcune donne svilupperanno tumori che non possiamo curare, he brightens every room he enters, and this is a rare and precious quality. ‘I feel I have lived my life in a magic garden where the sun is always shining, and I have never wanted to escape it,’ he writes, and in Odd Boy Out he offers us yet another glimpse of that bright, shining sun.




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