Although not published until October last year, this apparently quickly became the best-selling biography of 2004. I got mine in my Christmas stocking, and if there should be anyone out there who wasn't so lucky, or who has not already bought it for themselves, I can recommend it wholeheartedly, but it's probably wise to keep the box of tissues handy; (though this is not to say that it is an overwrought or sentimental account of the lives of two of Britain's best-loved actors - far from it).
There are two tiers of narrative throughout the book. There is the straightforward chronological history of the childhood and development of Sheila Hancock and John Thaw, told in separate chapters up until their paths meet and, after the loss of Sheila's first husband and the break-up of John's first marriage, their wedding. Thereafter the story tends to concentrate on John's life - while it by no means neglects the successful part of his career, making Regan and Morse in particular characters that will never be forgotten, it does relate in candid detail his struggle to come to terms with being a celebrity, his difficulty in communicating in person with even his closest family, his moods and ultimately his drinking. We are spared the gory details but the relatively unemotional recounting of the events, and his eventual overcoming of them, juxtaposed with the occasional cards or letters he would write expressing his love, do make it gripping to read. Sheila's own career and personal difficulties (she had her own cancer scare) are covered but briefly at this time.
As if that weren't enough, the whole narrative is peppered with extracts from Sheila's diary, acting as a second tier to the story, starting from January 2001, three months before any inkling of John's illness, through his swift decline and then death in February 2002, and her struggle to come to terms with her loss. Again, we are spared the gory details but the process is no less harrowing for this; shining through it all is the undying love they had for each other, having survived the trials and tribulations of what had gone before. You do have to be disciplined and not just skip forward reading these diary notes alone - for example John's death is recorded at just about the point where they marry in the main narrative, - and you will miss a lot of relevant history if you do.
It's a story of life and love, of tears and happiness, of struggles and success, and almost none of the name-dropping that features in most auto/biographies. It is both sad and heart-warming, and that, coming from one relatively cold-hearted male, is acclaim indeed.