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Straw bales and tall tales.. A British sporting idol, warts and all...
on 15 January 2008
Ah yes, British motorsport in the 70's was by most accounts a great time and place to be, we had heroic Formula One and Motorbike Grand Prix champions James Hunt and Barry Sheene in the same year, The Isle Of Man TT races were in their heyday, Silverstone was still a full on flat out venue before tighter chicanes and the Brooklands complex slowed the racing down and the British public couldn't get enough of it. Close your eyes and you can almost smell the Castrol R on a warm summers day. However behind the rose tinted glamour are stories of all too frequent and avoidable close brushes with death, below par venues, badly engineered machinery and organisational chaos, and this book certainly gives an honest insight into that world.
I must confess before I read this book I wasn't fully aware just how close friends Steve (Stavros) Parrish and Barry Sheene were, and some of their non season time partying 'activities' are the stuff of legends, some of which you will read about here. Your mother may not approve!
Overall I found the book enjoyable to read but apart from a some insights into Barry's (and his friends) antics within the confines of their close knit 'squadron' (both on and off the track) there wasn't a large amount of new material especially in respect of his famous horrific crashes at Daytona and Silverstone. What also surprised me was Barry portrayed by the contributors as an obsessional, insecure spoilt brat, traits which can be traced back to his childhood and the lenient upbringing by his parents, who bent over backwards to give Barry what he wanted. There is no question that Barry was used to having his own way in life, and this book does not hold back in this regard. (Remember this is the book, not my personal opinion) Also this portrayal of Barry poses the question that if this is the view that his wife and closest friend(s) have of him, then what did other people think? (I think his wife Stephanie deserves an award for putting up with so much). This may not be what some fans want to read, so if you want to stick with the image of a smiling cheeky Barry being the loveable heroic 40 a day rouge then this book may not be for you.
It is easy to fall into the trap of giving the maximum 5 stars to something, simply by association with something or someone who is popular or well regarded, but this book whilst interesting and at times revealing, is in the humble opinion of this reviewer not particularly well written. The narrative is clumsy and I regularly found myself having to re-trace back a couple of paragraphs to establish just who's story or opinion of Barry I was reading, as this was not always clear.
Whilst it was interesting to read the tales and stories told (amongst others) by Steve Parrish, Barry's wife Stephanie, Nick Harris, the doctor who repaired his legs, and occasional comment by Kenny Roberts Snr, the tragic fact is that apart from his auto biography originally penned in the late 70's, we the fans will never have a full and complete autobiography written by Barry himself, and no amount of tribute books or stories told by his family, friends and peers from over the years will ever replace that. I personally think we have gone as a far as we need to with Barry Sheene 'tribute' publications, and although it could be considered less `revealing', the Stuart Barker biography is a better read.