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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a biography, more a homage to a much loved father
An important point to bear in mind when taking on this book is that it is written by Harry H Corbett's daughter. And, as such, it suffers from the inevitable perspective that a loving daughter can't help but bring to the story of a father she understandably adored. Indeed, in the 'Epilogue' of the book Susannah concedes 'It is a curious thing to tell the story of a person...
Published 20 months ago by David

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3.0 out of 5 stars Harry Corbett a great actor but!!!
Hi I thought the book hung to much onto Harry's early theatrical years with names of people who were unknown to the likes of my self apart from Joan LIttlewood Yootha , Bryan Murphy and Glynn Edwards oh and George E Cooper. And in my view sadly lacking photographs of that working period and beyond. I always liked any performance on tv that Harry performed in, and...
Published 23 days ago by MR F.


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a biography, more a homage to a much loved father, 15 Feb 2013
An important point to bear in mind when taking on this book is that it is written by Harry H Corbett's daughter. And, as such, it suffers from the inevitable perspective that a loving daughter can't help but bring to the story of a father she understandably adored. Indeed, in the 'Epilogue' of the book Susannah concedes 'It is a curious thing to tell the story of a person while walking the tightrope between sentiment and impartiality. Knowing that for some you will always be too sentimental, for others not enough.'

Well, whilst I'm dubious about the likelihood of someone being accused of not being sentimental enough, there can be little doubt that this book, far from being written with a neutrality which allows for neither emotional attachment or spiteful bias, is the product of someone for whom no bad word about its subject could ever be entertained. If evidence of this is required then I defy anyone to find within the entire 450 pages of this tome, a negative criticism of either Harry H, the man, or Harry H, the actor. Yes, there's mention of bad reviews of productions he's appeared in. But even in these, invariably the root cause of the failure (at least by the no doubt carefully selected critics quoted) cannot be attributed to Harry. In most instances, the production was dire despite Harry's excellent contribution, or else he was the exception in an otherwise dud of a play - or, at the very worst, Harry was 'miscast'.

This relentless glorification is also to be found in the plethora of tributes paid by countless actors, directors, producers, writers, and Uncle Tom Cobley, all of whom have nothing but good things to say about this undoubtedly fine actor who was also, by all accounts, a very decent and genuine man.

At the other end of the bio spectrum there is the 'unauthorised' biography, the essence of which is essentially to 'dig the dirt', weeding out salacious and nasty little titbits and highly dubious anecdotes to supply the 'juicy bit of goss' without which many readers feel cheated (which is ironic, given that such books full of lies and tat represent the biggest cheat of all). But, with this work, we get the other extreme, courtesy of that familial sentimentality which Susannah, despite self consciously referring to it at the end of the book, can't help but be subservient to. Anyone, especially someone who led such an eventful life as Harry H Corbett, must have stepped out of line and ruffled a few feathers both privately and professionally somewhere along the line. And a dispassionate, unbiased biographer, writing with fairness, balance, and candour would have given us a much clearer and realistic picture of the man, rather than one self consciously written with a pen guided by the heartstrings. Put simply, Susannah cannot bring herself to write anything about her beloved father which grinds even slightly against the love and affection she naturally feels for him. And therein lies this book's major flaw.

I would also add a criticism that another reviewer here has drawn attention to, which is the easy way in which Susannah uses unnecessarily coarse language throughout the text, in some cases surprisingly shocking and insensitive in the context of what is being said. And I can't help but feel that the majority of those of a certain age who I'd think would make up the main readership of this bio, will be as disheartened as I was by this. No doubt, the cry will go up that we live in the 21st Century and we should all get with the programme. Well, I'm sorry, but I hold that there is still a substantial quota of society which believes the old programme, dictated by recognised boundaries of linguistic restraint, was better and would prefer to keep it that way, especially in a book of this 'genre'. As a northerner myself I'm sure Harry was not averse to using the odd crude expletive - not least during his killing machine days in the Far East. But that's not what I'm talking about here. Where gutter language is in context and necessary to make a point, that's fine - otherwise, far from impressing, it saddens and disappoints.

All that being said, credit must be given for the amount of research (no doubt another labour of love) which has clearly been done on this book. Yes, there's a heck of a lot about Theatre Workshop, an emphasis on which has been criticised by others. Personally, I enjoyed reading about the origin, development, and arduous hard graft of those pioneers of radical 'people's theatre'. An admirable collective that struggled on so valiantly, literally cap in hand, in the face of so much hardship, knock backs, and a lack of any kind of fiscal help from an artistic establishment which neither wanted, nor had the vision to see the validity of it. This section is also interesting because of its inclusion of so many actors too numerous to mention who are still around today (Murray Melvin - I remember spotting him strolling along The Headrow in Leeds during his 'Taste of Honey' days, many moons ago) and others who, sadly, are not.

Also, the humour of the man shines through, which is another commendable aspect of the book. A couple of laugh out loud moments for me were, firstly, on page 215 where, after a distinctly poor production of 'Macbeth' (one of those dreadful plays I referred to earlier in which, for the 'extremely talented actor', Harry H Corbett, 'Macbeth' was simply 'not his part'). However, as he's leaving the stage after a less than successful performance, he puts his arm around fellow thespian Milton Johns and says, 'Milt, I was very nice to people on the way up!'

And another funny moment comes whilst Harry is working with Victor Spinetti and Terry Scott. Apparently, Harry and Victor loved to wind Terry up and at one point in the dressing room Harry says to Victor, 'Ah, young Spinetti, how much did you get for that commercial you did for Jaffa Cakes?' 'Oh, £20,000,' Spinetti replies. At which, Terry jumps up, outraged, to splutter, '£20,000, £20,000! I only got £3000 pounds for Curly Wurlys and you're a nobody.'

No doubt, there will be those whose interest in this book is naturally attributable to their affection for 'Steptoe and Son' and who will be hoping it focuses largely on this aspect of Harry's life. Well, the good news is that there's plenty to satisfy that interest, both in terms of in front of the camera and behind the scenes. There are also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, plot outlines for every single Steptoe episode and film Harry and Wlifrid Brambell ever made. However, the bad news is that, if 'Steptoe' is all you're interested in then you'd better be prepared to skip the first half of the book and head straight to Chapter 11 on page 217, because it's not until then that the 'Steptoe' story begins.

I suspect Susannah's satisfaction from the publication of this book is twofold. It enabled her to document the wrongs done after her father's death in terms of the way stories, documentaries and dramatisations of his life and working relationship with Wilfrid Brambell were disgracefully manipulated purely for the sake of sensationalism - and how, mainly with Harry's father-in-law's admirable persistence, what reparations could be made, were eventually made.

But mostly, I suspect Susannah's greatest satisfaction, which is also its downfall, is in producing what essentially amounts to a deeply affectionate homage to a loved, and loving, father and family man who just happened to become a well known actor.

Overall, despite the language and the inescapably rose-tinted approach I enjoyed reading this book. It's just a shame that it's a curate's egg which leaves us with a sense that what we've been given is not a full, warts and all, portrait of Harry H Corbett, but an image too filtered by a daughter's love to get us any closer to knowing the real Harry H Corbett than we were before.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sets the record straight......., 18 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow (Hardcover)
In recent years it has become fashionable to have a pop at Harry H Corbett: both a recent documentary and TV drama suggesting that he hated his Steptoe and Son co-star Wilfrid Brambell and that he was a serious, straight actor frustrated having to play situation comedy. Given that the aforementioned documentary stated that Corbett died in 1985 when it was actually 1982 (unbelievable that this is now 30 years ago), that the TV drama cast an actor wearing brown contact lenses when in fact Corbett's eyes were blue, and that I distinctly recall Brambell being very upset on TV's Nationwide on the day that Corbett died, I have always felt that the true story of Harry H Corbett and Steptoe and Son had not yet been told.
Happily this book, written by Corbett's daughter, herself an established writer and actor, puts the record straight. Whilst it's clear that Corbett and Brambell were never bosom buddies (Corbett was heterosexual, a socialist and a method actor, Brambell was homosexual, a Tory and an actor of the `old school') there was never the sort of blind hatred between the pair that the recent documentary and TV drama would have us believe. Rather, Corbett emerges as a remarkably un-cynical and self-effacing individual: serious about his profession but content to take what life throws at him.
This long-overdue book is a highly readable account of one of Britain's much-loved and now largely-forgotten actors; an actor who, had he lived, would probably have slipped back into serious roles in the 1990s (like David Jason eventually did). Whilst the book is prone to some extraneous detail (the plot synopses of Steptoe episodes drag a little) this should not detract from its overall impact. One senses that the author is attempting to set the record straight: in this she succeeds admirably. Forget what you have been told about Harry H Corbett over the last 10 years or so; you've been misinformed. A highly recommended book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Insight, 22 Oct 2013
By 
Graham Hinch (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harry H Corbett (Kindle Edition)
Like many I had been taken in by the inaccuracies of the BBC4 drama which seemed to be portraying itself as a documentary. This is a great way to explore the truth of the situation, Whilst never close friends (they came from different backgrounds and had very different political views) Harry & Wilfrid clearly respected each other professionally.

Written lovingly and respectfully by his daughter, Susannah, it certainly does not attempt to be a whitewashing of the truth or a re-invention of history. It does demonstrate what a great actor he was and how had Steptoe not happened he would still have been remembered as a gifted stage performer. A very pragmatic person, he did what he thought he needed to do to pay the bills, even if some of the projects he was involved with were not so good with the benefit of hindsight. There was certainly no hint that he regretted his time with Steptoe, which is another miss-truth often quoted as an easy headline.

The only reason I didn't give it a full five stars is that a quarter of the book relates in detail with Harry's professional relationship with Joan Littlewood and his time at the Theatre Theatre Workshop. Whilst fascinating to see how both helped to shape Harry's professional and personal life, some may consider a little too much detail is covered on Joan's relationship with the Theatre Workshop and her relationship with Ewan MacColl. I found myself wanting to get back with Harry's fascinating life even though it was interesting in it's own right.

All in all, a very accomplished first biography - perhaps Ms Corbett could turn her skills to restoring the reputations of other 60 & 70s small screen stars whose reputations have been historically tarnished?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 10 Jan 2014
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Bought for my father in law. He said it was very good. A bit slow at the beginning but he persisted and thoroughly enjoyed it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Harry Corbett a great actor but!!!, 2 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Harry H Corbett (Kindle Edition)
Hi I thought the book hung to much onto Harry's early theatrical years with names of people who were unknown to the likes of my self apart from Joan LIttlewood Yootha , Bryan Murphy and Glynn Edwards oh and George E Cooper. And in my view sadly lacking photographs of that working period and beyond. I always liked any performance on tv that Harry performed in, and Galton and Simpsons writing was superb along with the great performances in Steptoe was his magic niche on the world. he must have had to bite his tongue a lot when Wilfred had a rant about things, being the old style Lah de dah Darling actor he was ..
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One front leg of a cow, 15 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow (Hardcover)
It wasn't until I finished the book that I understood why it was written. I think Susannah Corbett wrote it just to dispell the malicious rumours and docu-dramas that besmirched Harry's good name. However, I have to say that it wasn't so much a biography of Harry, more of an ensemble piece about that era and Joan Littlewood's reign. There just wasn't enough Harry in it for me. He was a much loved actor, and is still as watchable now as he was at his height, but I'm not sure that I know that much more about him than I did before reading the book.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, 7 April 2012
This review is from: Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow (Hardcover)
I looked forward to this book for so long and couldn't put it down when my copy was finally delivered. It's fun to read - fast-paced, engaging and packed full of great anecdotes. As a previous review has mentioned, the author goes to paticular pains in attempting to 'set the record straight' regarding the relationship between Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell, and in this she certainly succeeds. There is also a wealth of extraneous detail (concerning the Theatre Workshop, for example) which makes for interesting reading.

I was disapponted, however, by what I might term the 'strong' language used by the author throughout the book for no discernible purpose. I am by no means puritanical or prudish (and I do not refer to quotations referenced in the book) but I found the swears unnecessary and distracting. I enjoyed the book, there's no doubt about it - but I don't think I would have bought it had I known how casual the writing style would be. There are also quite a few typographical errors. However, I don't mean to be critical of the author - I'm very grateful that she has written this long-overdue biography, and I would definitely recommend the book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Steptoe And Daughter, With No Warts, 29 July 2013
By 
AK 1957-05 (Manchester United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
A daughter isn't the best person to write a biography. Susannah loved her Dad, that much is plain, and in her eyes he can do no wrong. Except that EVERYONE does wrong sometimes, and Harry was no exception. In my reply to a one-star review here, I say that Corbett comes across as an awful luvvy, and that there is a video clip of him being interviewed where he pours out the most pretentious, actorly guff you've ever heard. However, there is another clip of him chatting to a "totter" in Australia, where he appears relaxed and friendly - more 'Arold! than Harold H.

There are incredibly long, tedious passages in this book about the Littlewood years - unneccesarily detailed descriptions of techniques and acting tropes - whilst the "darker" side of Corbett's life is given a very thick coat of gloss. That's fine - no-one could expect a daughter to expose her father's shortcomings, and she shows admirable loyalty where some dirt-digging would probably have earned her a fortune. It just makes for an annoyingly bland, sterile read! The early depiction of poverty-stricken Manchester is very good, however.

Other reviewers here have dismissed stories of Corbett's strained relationship with Brambell, and of his marital difficulties. Well, I'm capable of making my own mind up on the balance of accounts from a variety of sources. This source isn't reliable, but there are plenty of other books out there which are.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Happy I read it, 13 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Harry H Corbett (Kindle Edition)
Overall I really enjoyed this book. Like many readers who are Steptoe fans it was a little slow going until that part of tv history is reached. The first half of the book seemed to be a joint biography of Harry H. Corbett and Joan Littlewood. The creation of Steptoe & Son starts half way through the book.

This is a MUST read for any Harry H. Corbett fan and of course any Steptoe & Son fan.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, 9 Mar 2013
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It was really a good read.To see his up bringing and struggles and to understand that Harry was a really nice bloke and very talented actor.A really good loving family man brought to life by his daughter.thank you.
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Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow
Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of the Cow by Susannah Corbett (Hardcover - 20 Mar 2012)
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