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Dosen't do the subject justice
on 30 January 2009
It is interesting that the author, or more likely I guess, the publishers, felt that this account of the life of Alastair Sim required a sub-title: 'The star of Scrooge and the Belles of St Trinian's' as though, without this reminder of two of the actor's best known films, the reading public, or, at least, those under forty, would not know who he was.
And yet, during the 1950s, Sim was a very popular and much loved actor. This is the first biography to appear since his widow published her own memoir in the 1980s. I wish I could say this new book was worth waiting for, but for many reasons it is unsatisfactory.
To be fair, the author Mark Simpson had two problems to contend with: Sim guarded his privacy carefully and never gave interviews, so the amount of documentation available is small; and the fact that many of the actors, directors and producers who worked with Sim are no longer alive.
It is a competent account of Sim's life. Comments on films and plays are pithy, though in some cases, I would have liked rather more in-depth analysis. Simpson is also quite candid about Sim's limited acting range and his choice of roles in some poor films, though I suspect this might have been a deliberate ploy on Sim's part to make him stand out from his fellow actors. More information on James Bridie and his plays which formed such an important part of Alastair Sim's career would also have been helpul, particularly as Bridie is a forgotten playwright nowadays. The author touches on the reasons why Sim's film career declined after the 1950s, but again, I feel this subject could have been explored more fully.
The publisher's blurb informs us that the author spent ten years reseaching this biography and I am tempted to ask: what did he spend the ten years doing? It is a slim volume and yes, we have comments from actors who worked with Sim, but these are few and far between. There are singular omissions in this area, Patricia Routledge being the obvious example.
The author gets himself in a bit of a lather about those aspects of Sim's private life which have drawn comment over the years, viz his promotion of young actors and speculation about his sexuality. He almost apologises for not finding any salacious tittle-tattle.
Fans of Alastair Sim will be grateful to Mark Simpson for writing this biography and it is an enjoyable read. It just needs fleshing out more.