Top critical review
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Not Great; Not super.....
on 1 April 2011
As a fan of the late, great Leonard Rossiter, I was delighted to see someone tackle the task of writing a biography of this acting genius. Up to now nothing has been written apart from Robert Tanitsch's excellent photo collection with commentary not long after Rossiter's untimely death. However, Guy Adams has produced a disappointing book, which looks like a commission and reflects some of the difficulties of writing about an actor who was intensely private. There appear to be few sources- no secret diaries of a tortured genius (ala Kenneth Williams or Les Dawson) or self penned revelatory autobiographical fragments. Many of his contemporaries have either not commented like Josephine Tewson and Gillian Raine -his first and second wives respectively or have passed away like John Barron of CJ fame. If Adams had too few sources he could have chosen to write a very different book- perhaps one about the difficulty of writing this life. Instead he follows a conventional and safe trawl through the actors extensive stage and screen career with the expected dip into the clippings library of reviews and it all seems heavily reliant on the Tanitsch book. Adams- perhaps aware and restricted by the scarcity of sources is reduced to padding the book out with superfluous information.- for example we are told who David Frost was and that he interviewed Nixon and that a film was made about this story. A glance at what purports to be a bibliography hardly reflects any detailed research on Rossiter's life and times or the nature of the media he worked in.
It seems churlish to criticize Guy Adams for not writing the book I might have wanted to read but not only is his prose leaden and lumpen but the short chapters and large print hint of a project gone awry. The short chapters may make it a very easy read but also allow nothing for the development of an analytical book about the themes and points made. Adams seems to be in a hurry to get it finished and in the shops. The title, Character Driven has real potential since Leonard Rossiter was possibly one of the most intense and focused actors of his generation. An analysis of the nature of his comic acting; a consideration of the similarities between his two most famous creations (Rigsby and Perrin); an analysis (rather than comment) of how these creations reflected the times they were in; a summation of his place in the acting pantheon- all this would have been interesting material to escape from the trap of the cut and paste school of biography. What would a writer such as Roger Lewis or Graham McCann have made of Rossiter's career? It would be interesting to speculate on what a hard working actor would think of today's celebrity culture and the effect on the privacy he so closely guarded. There are hints in the book that whilst Rossiter's daughter, Camilla gave it her blessing there was little help in enlightening the author about the private man himself. Similarly, it seems mostly a rehash, in print of interviews done for programmes such as Comedy Connections.
So, an opportunity missed. If you know nothing about Rossiter it is certainly a starting point and the prose is clear if uninspired but I didn't get where I am today by giving disappointing books 5 stars......Goodnight Vienna