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Mr Foote's Other Leg: Comedy, tragedy and murder in Georgian London [Paperback]

Ian Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Sep 2013

In 1776 Foote’s was the most talked-of name in the English-speaking world. By 1777 it was almost unmentionable. Samuel Foote, friend of David Garrick and Dr Johnson, is the greatest lost figure of the eighteenth century; his story defies belief and has only been forgotten for reasons both laughable and shocking. Foote wrote the first true-crime bestseller, was the first celebrity impressionist and lost his leg after a bet with the Duke of York when a practical joke went disastrously wrong. Out of this was born the most singular career in stage history.

In this unique biography not only does award-winning historian Ian Kelly uncover the tragicomic tale of this Oscar Wilde of the eighteenth century, but he tells the story of the first media storm and the first victim of celebrity culture, and offers a joyous hop around the mad theatre of London life – high and low.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (12 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330517848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330517843
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 232,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'I thought this was an exceptionally entertaining book about an extraordinary man. Foote was clearly an extraordinary character even by the standards of Georgian London and one cannot help but feel that if he had not actually existed it would have been necessary to invent him. Kelly gives us a vivid and graphic portrayal of this one-legged satirical genius and the dangerous and compelling world that he inhabited, from the court to debtors' gaol. Highly recommended.'

Catharine Arnold, author of Bedlam: London and its Mad

'Kelly's perceptive wit, and interest in his densely theatrical material, makes him an ideal biographer for this pint-size peacock . . . Foote's imprint deserved uncovering.' Sunday Telegraph

‘Dazzling . . . Kelly is a master at recreating atmosphere and making the reader feel he is living alongside the book’s subject’ Daily Express

'[In this] uproarious account of Foote's career . . . Kelly handles theatrical rumour and apocrypha with great care' Guardian

'Ian Kelly, an actor and writer, has found a perfect subject in this larger-than-life theatrical phenomenon . . . [he] is a charming and knowledgeable guide' Literary Review

'Ian Kelly's splendid biography . . . [is a] thrilling piece of literary archeology' Scotsman

About the Author

Ian Kelly has written prize-winning biographies of Casanova, Beau Brummell and Antonin Careme, he combines this with acting, from playing the art-historian in Lee Hall’s The Pitman Painters to Hermione’s father in the final instalments of the Harry Potter films.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Many stories rolled into one life. 29 Jan 2014
This would be an interesting tale if it was just about one of the biggest celebrities and most famous comedians of his age, or about a famous murder case written up and sensationalised by the nephew of both the victim and the accused, or about a Georgian sex scandal. It is all of these and more. Has a large cast of equally interesting players. And by the way the main character had his leg removed after an accident following a bet with a member of the royal family. Would make a great tv show. Sometimes went into repetitive detail about staging Footes' plays and his spats with Garrick, which is why I dropped a star. Very detailed research, evidenced in the notes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars well researched but stodgy 22 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The story of Samuel Foote is fascinating, and Ian Kelly has done a wonderful job in researching the story. Sadly the telling of it was stodgy and pedantic. A much lighter touch would have better served the tale of a great comic writer and actor. The only time the style of the writer and the content really work is in the two trials at the end of the book where the dour and meticulous writing are a good mix with what is happening at the trials.
As with some other readers I almost stopped reading in the ponderous first 3/4 of the book.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting on so many counts! 15 Dec 2012
By Sarah
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book, intensely well written and admirably researched. Samuel Foote [I had never heard of him] was a friend and colleague of David Garrick, but while Garrick became THE successful actor, Foote specialised in a sort of dangerous satirical mimcry on stage and was, until his downfall , very successful. The book reveals a multitude of historical facts, illustrated with vivid examples from Foote's career, about the development of theatre in the mid eighteenth century; one item charts the change in styles of Shakespearean acting with particular regard to the interpretation of Shylock. Sam Foote lost a leg following an accident, and the research into the amputation procedure, written in grisly but factual detail is unforgettable; so is the suggestion [put forward by John Hunter the surgeon who attended him later] that he suffered personality disinhibition as the result of the head injury he sustained at the same time. Most interesting, to me, was the information gleaned on gay life in London in the mid eighteenth century - Sam was ultimately involved in a scandal which effectively wiped him from historical memory.
The writing is thoughtful, demanding and sometimes very funny - see the story surrounding the death of the actor who became the most famous Drury Lane ghost. I recommend it wholeheartedly, with the simple caveat that due to the quality of the writing it is not a quick read.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Ian Kelly makes it clear from the outset that Samuel Foote is not name most are familiar with. He then spends the rest of the book posing an eloquent and highly entertaining argument as to why we should familiarise ourselves with both his name and the fascinating context in which he became both most celebrated and, subsequently, reviled man of his era.

The pace of the book is breath-taking. Kelly packs in a huge amount of detail, supported by some sumptuous illustrations, and a stomach-churning descriptions of the amputation of Foote's 'other leg'.

The read is a sumptuous romp. Highly recommended!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A joy 11 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Ian Kelly marshals a vast amount of research into a delightful biography which is easy to read and gives a vivid sense of 18th-century life in London. He is careful not to fictionalise or impose 21st-century views onto the story of a fascinating character who was one of the celebrities of his day and is now completely forgotten.
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5.0 out of 5 stars anh interesting biography 6 Nov 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am a volunteer at Delaval Hall and the book helps me to impart a little more information to the many visitors who are intrigued with the history of the building and the people that lived there. I will certainly deal with this firm again if the need arrises.
I am still reading the book which was welll researched
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mr Foote's Other Leg 11 Mar 2013
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
I came across a review of this book on the website of the BBC History Magazine, and thought it sounded a very intriguing book. So I looked it out to read.

Samuel Foote was born probably in 1720 in Cornwall, the youngest of three boys in his family. His mother came from a well-to-do family of some lineage, but the family were for a very long time embroiled in court cases over inheritances and property. Sam's mother and her two brothers were no different, and Sam's first chance at some fame (or infamy) came in 1741 when one of his uncles was killed. The ensuing scandal and trial were utilised by Sam in writing of the events, and this helped him to get himself free of debtor's prison - the first time. Already, Sam's life was taking twists and turn unusual even in the rather rarefied atmosphere of Georgian London. Sam was clearly a character, and was well-known about town - friends with such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick. His wit and gregarious nature seems, right from the start, to have won him friends and influenced people.

Foote's next foray towards fame and fortune took him on to the stage. From there, we follow Foote's often eccentric and even rather bizzare public and private life. Along the way, we read of the Georgian staff and theatre, of eighteenth century sexual proclivities and their reception amongst Society, and the horrors of eighteenth century amputations, amongst other items of wonder and delight. Foote's rise amongst the wits, his run in the theatre and amongst well-known Society, and his scandalous fall are laid out for the reader with frank openness. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, often sad, Foote's life seems to have been a most unusual one, even for his times. This book is well written, very engaging to read, and offers a glimpse into the type of life most of us would never have dreamed could have existed. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful
hilarious, fascinating a joy and a education to read
Published 17 days ago by Viktor Wynd
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, a fascinating life
A superb peek at a very interesting period that I frankly had known little about.
Published 1 month ago by Mr R J Neilson
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
I found this book so heavy and dense that I didn't finish it. Far too many footnotes, which obscured the narrative for me.
Published 15 months ago by Mrs. C. M. Velarde
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
The style is ponderous, interspersed with jarring colloquialisms, and at nearly 400 pages the book is 200 pages too long. No alleyway is left unexplored, no stone unturned. Read more
Published 16 months ago by David Gladwell
2.0 out of 5 stars I've done the research so I'll use it.
Even if you dear reader are beaten to death with it. Foote was probably the first celebrity with a notorious reputation and a wicked sense of humour. Read more
Published 16 months ago by David Slater
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fascinating Mr Foote
This is a truly absorbing read. Samuel Foote - one-legged comedy superstar of Georgian theatre, best-selling crime author, transvestite, friend of Garrick and Dr Johnson, jailbird... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Miss Cupcake
4.0 out of 5 stars Mr.Foote's Other Leg
This book was recommended to me by a friend as I have been doing detailed research into the Delaval Family and Sam Foote was a friend of the family. Read more
Published 19 months ago by M. Reid
5.0 out of 5 stars Seriously funny: hilariously erudite
A book for your (singular) Christmas stocking. Like Foote's prosthesis it's an absolute corker. Achingly amusing,constantly entertaining,meticulously researched, packed with fact,... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Donald Bain
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