4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2004
This is a seductive collection of interviews with a stunning list of people we would all like to get to know in this way. Farndale encapsulates each person and their meeting with a fascinating and somewhat sideways look at them. It's interesting that many of the interviewees were angry about the interview when published, even though I have not read one that is nasty about its subject. I suspect the real problem is that Farndale gets to the real person, no matter how hard they try to hide, and exposes them (always sympathetically) in the interview. Entertainingly laced with judgements on the interviewee made by other people, self-revealing remarks the interviewee would probably rather forget, and just enough of Farndale's own reactions to bring him to life. It makes perfect bed-time reading, each interview just the right length, though I found it difficult to stop at just one.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
After a friend recommended "The Blasphemer", a book I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend too, I looked for other Farndales and discovered this together with "A Sympathetic Hanging". Having read and enjoyed John Mortimer's "Character Parts", another book of interviews I would recommend (with most of Mortimer's books), I bought the Farndale.
There is a lengthy introduction about the process, styles and lengths of interviewing; having thought and read little about it, my limited experience was the brief television magazine interview, Mortimer's relatively short style and the "conveyor belt" film promotion, e.g. Hugh Grant's "Horse and Hounds" interview in "Notting Hill". The intriguing title comes from "The Times" writer, Andrew Billen, who compared the procedure to mutual seduction: "The three stages of a successful interview are flirtation, seduction and betrayal" (P 3), a description of the interviewer not the interviewees' lives (well, not all). The dust-cover is emblazoned with "The Daily Telegraph", not my usual paper so I knew I had not read them before, (unlike Clarkson's columns whose first "column" book I was given as a present; it is becoming very common now to retain moral rights and re-cycle columns into books). The dust-cover's list reads like a "Who's Who?" of the turn of the twentieth century's arts, media, sports, personalities and politics: Woody Allen, James Hewitt, Sir Paul McCartney, Goer Vidal, Eddi Izzard, George Best, Norman Tebbit, Jeffrey Archer, the Dalai Lama to name but a few.
Gossip has never been an interest or pass time of mine - not saintliness, just too busy - and this is obviously one side of certain interviews - the sword-wielding journalist going behind, "seeking after truth" and there is a certain amount of justification of the journalists' stance, the objectivity normally required is partially thrown aside in the intimacy of the face-to-face interview. In a somewhat incestuous duo, Farndale asked Michael Parkinson about interviewing and was told it was like being paid to meet one's heroes; nice work if one can get it. The first interview with James Hewitt is lengthy, hovering in the gossip category and I quickly felt I was reading a matadorial contest, the "Tercio de Banderillas" having been completed by others previously, the not-so-blind leading the bland who just happened to have been ... and found himself a traitor and in the public-eye. Why begin with James Hewitt? Interviews are not alphabetical or arranged by date or taxonomical by profession. Was this a publisher's ploy, the first pages flicked through in the shop to flirt with and seduce the reader to betray later?
Not deeply interested in James Hewitt, I struggled fitfully with the interview, skipping sections to find myself face-to-face with Geoffrey Boycott, Woody Allen, John Redwood, Bob Monkhouse, Charlton Heston, Jeffrey Archer, etc, nearly four hundred pages of interviews at, roughly, ten pages per person.
Farndale obviously grew in experience with each interview. He is not above poking a little fun at himself, e.g. quoting his asking Stephen Fry if he thought his brain had been a useful asset to him, to be informed that he thought they were quite useful for everyone, probably with that under-eyebrow, Jeevesian smirk. As a thoughtful journalist from the outset, Farndale began from a perceptive, intelligent, wry and deeply curious standpoint; he almost always has the last word (although many of his subjects complained afterwards). Like a clumsy "estocada" in the "Tercio de Muerte", the victims do not always lie down quietly, to be dragged off into print.
His (or the editor's) choice of subjects is a fine balance of arts, media, sports, personalities and politics but, strangely, there is only one woman, Glenda Jackson; this seems a great imbalance and a fascinating insight into the world of "The Daily Telegraph". As the sub-title adumbrates, one is left asking the question: Who are the villains, who are the heroes and is a woman's place really by the sink?