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Charles Hawtrey 1914-1988: The Man Who Was Private Widdle Paperback – 7 Oct 2002
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(a) brilliant little biography. -- The Stage, May 2002
(a) pungent, opinionated and brilliantly intuitive biography of the saddest act in the history of British cinema. -- New Statesman, September 2001
Lewis evokes Hawtreys weird by wholly joyful persona in a monograph worthy of Ken Tynan. -- Spectator, November 2001
Roger Lewiss small but perfectly formed biography. . . like its subject, Lewiss book may be slim but it packs a surprising amount between its covers. -- Evening Standard, November 2001
this brief book rewards reading. -- Observer, November 2001
Charles Hawtrey 1914-1988: The Man Who Was Private Widdle, by Roger Lewis, is a small masterpiece of biographical investigation, shining a light on the comic genius of the Carry On films.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
I couldn't like it one bit.
Why? Because on almost every page we get the opinions and suppositions of the author written large, and proper biography of his subject written small. This is a terrible shame, and a terrible waste of ink, paper and publishing. I am interested in Charles Hawtrey, NOT his biographer's outlook on the world, and his opinions on British comedy.
It was actually terrible timing, because I happened to read this shabby book immediately after reading Graham McCann's SUPERB biography of Frankie Howerd, which is a model of good, authoritative biography of a 20th Century British comedian. McCann worships Howerd, which of course has coloured his biography, but you don't care because McCann has invested a huge amount of care and reserach in his book, and it really shows. Roger Lewis, on the other hand, in his slim, thin, unsatisfying biography of Charles Hawtrey, has not. (To make matters worse, in "Hawtrey", Roger Lewis makes references to Frankie Howerd that go no deeper than Frankie's catchphrases -- indicating, at least to me, that Mr Lewis really has no clue at all about character and talent, except perhaps an exaggerated view of his own).
Mr Lewis is often lacking in taste. For example, in the last chapter which describes Hawtrey's final days in hospital, when his doctors had suggested the only hope for his survival was amputation of both legs, Mr Lewis writes, referring to Hawtrey's chronic alcoholism: "Hawtrey had been legless often enough in his life not to want to go the whole hog...". One can only read such leaden, tasteless prose and gasp, wondering how on earth the Editor at Faber & Faber let this pass.
Well, these are too many words already. In short, I disliked this book with an intensity that made my toes curl, and I can't recommend it to anyone. Yes, there were some "facts" about Hawtrey, but who can say whether they're reliable or not. There's an appendix of some film appearances, and some reprinted letters, which are of interest. If you want photographs, you'll be sorely disappointed -- in my version the few photos are printed in newsprint style of poor quality.
Charles Hawtrey deserves better than this miserable little book and I hope there's someone out there to do a proper job.
If you want to find out more about the eccentric life of the mysterious Hawtrey you will be fed a few scraps of information tucked within what Lewis thinks of the Carry On's, what Lewis thinks of Kenneth Williams, what Lewis thinks of Kenneth Connor, diversions into far less interesting subjects and ridiculous Peter Pan analogies.
It reads more like a pretentious student thesis rather than an informative biog and the amount of research is minimal.
For instance, one of Hawtrey's last TV appearances was in the series Supergran and this is just mentioned in a footnote and Lewis had never hard of the programme, named the wrong actress who played her and didn't even bother to get a copy of the show to watch. Considering how reclusive and obstinate Hawtrey was in the 80's it would be interesing to hear how this appearance came about and what he was like to work with during the filming of it.
Lewis didn't bother finding out.
In fact, he shouldn't have bothered at all really.
As Roger Lewis acknowledges, as much as we love the Carry Ons (and I do) our affection isn't based on their artistic merits. Part of the pleasure of this 98 page monograph is reading Roger Lewis's obvious love for Hawtrey's abilities and comedic skills ("the positive joy of Hawtrey's performances imply the possibility of happiness"), coupled with his forthright opinions on some of the other Carry On regulars. His fiercest criticism is reserved for the two Kenneths: Kenneth Connor ("what a pain in the arse") and Kenneth Williams ("an appalling actor, affected, caustic, shrieking like a peacock and with no sense of dramatic rhythm").
Ultimately though, this is the tragic tale of a very lonely man: "Poor old Charles Hawtrey, he had a craving for the things that wouldn't come - superstardom, wealth, the love of naked sailors - and so developed a drinking habit, to put it mildly".
This may well be the perfect little book to sum up one of the sadder stories of British showbusiness, albeit one about a natural comedian who, like a select few (e.g. Eric Morecambe and Tommy Cooper), was funny even whilst doing very little.
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