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"The Last Word from the Top Companion"
on 15 November 2011
I'm pleased to say that this is a great read. To be honest, if I hadn't enjoyed it, then I probably wouldn't have bothered with a review. I would have felt bad writing a negative one but fortunately I don't have to consider that.
Like all good autobiographies, it's got a good conversational style which the afterword by her family comfirms very much has her turn of phrase etc to it. It's the kind of book best enjoyed on train & bus journeys to & from work, when you can pretend your having a chat with her.
Dr Who is covered in some detail but that doesn't mean the rest is not interesting.
The early portion on her family history suggests enough material existed for a good "Who do you think you are. & similarly the period on her early life (find how she came to vommit on Edwina Currie)& a fascinating and varied stage career will easily prevent you skipping onto the Who section. She clearly loved acting and mixing with people such as actor Robert Morley & playwright Alan Ayckbourn but that's not to say it's a luvvie's bore of a book. Where there were famous names she had problems with she explains why she thought badly of them and in hindsight whether she was right.
Naturally the Who section is of prime interest & even though there will be anecdotes & stories heard before in interviews, commentaries & so on, she still does the fans proud. We learn who were the directors who were difficult to work with were ( some names there will surprise you) and best of all what it was like to work with Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker & more recently David Tennant.
She found Pertwee initially difficult to work with because their styles & approaches clashed but does acknowledge that some of his apparently insensitive acts were just the opposite e.g. he thought it was supportive to watch her film her 1st scene & to introduce her to fans who had at that point no idea who she was. He had no idea that it made her feel more daunted. The 2 worked better toward the end of his time and later became good friends.
She clearly hit it off and gelled with Tom Baker from the off & found he was happy to listen to her, was full of mad ideas himself & quick to champion her suggestions. She jokes that she didn't want to watch him with other companions likening it to seeing your husband with another woman.
There are in this section and (in the rest of the book but I noticed them here most) some great insights. She believes when he had resigned because the Beeb refused to give him a raise (this has been questioned more recently but she seem certain it's true) Jon Pertwee regretted his decision. He didn't really want to leave the show but it had only hit him once it was too late to stop. She believes this and a form of jealousy over Tom's apparently greater success & longer tenure in the role, coloured the bad relationship between the 2.
Her account of the making of the 5 Doctors is similarly interesting e.g. all Doctors going off with their own cliques at breaks.
She recalls her initial reluctance to return to Sarah Jane Smith, the false start with K9 and Company all leading to a triumphant return in "School Reunion" and then her own show "The Sarah Jane Adventures." She speaks about the role attending conventions with Jon Pertwee played i bringing her back to Who & her affection for her fans shines through.
Acting jobs between Who are covered well too as is her decision to retire from acting(fortunately temporarily).
There's plenty of humour e.g. she jokes that Yasmin Page who left Sarah Jane Adventures early on to avoid typecasting will probably manage her career better than she did & compares acting opposite Alpha Centauri to playing Shakespeare with a tellytubby! She's also very amused most papers etc. knocked 2 years of her date of birth.
Whatever work her family and co-author Jeff Hudson did to get the book ready for publication, I commend them because it does not read as rushed or unfinished.
There's an introduction from David Tennant and some material form her husband & daughter.
A fine tribute to Elisabeth Sladen which I recommend to anyone who enjoyed her work.