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John Mortimer: The Devil's Advocate: The Unauthorised Biography Paperback – 6 Sep 2006

3.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New Ed edition (6 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752877801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752877808
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,329,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

About the Author

Graham Lord is a biographer who has also published novels. For nearly 20 years he was the influential book columnist of the Sunday Express. He lives mainly in France.

Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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I found this a thoroughly entertaining read. It was lively, interesting, and I'm sure far more accurate than his 'official' autobiography, which by the way I haven't read. I remember John Mortimer well from his television interviews and although he was considerable older than me, much of it was of my era so I recognised lots of what was going on at the time. Glad I read it.
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Format: Paperback
The final chapter of this book should really come at the beginning so that readers can take the rest of the book with the large pinch of salt required. In that chapter Graham Lord reveals considerable bitterness about his perception that Mortimer gave permission for the autobiography only to withdraw it, and that has clearly coloured much of his approach to the book. Although he acknowledges some of Mortimer's achievements, this is begrudging and he loses no opportunity to outweigh such acknowledgments with mudslinging.

Throughout he relishes "evidence" from interviewees who have something derogatory to say about Mortimer, to the extent that he fails to exercise any sensible judgment about the value of what they are saying; for example, he interviews one amongst hundreds of school contemporaries who, years later, says Mortimer failed to make much impression on him, and present that as a representative view - although clearly it is worthless as evidence. At times he acknowledges that Mortimer's first wife was both promiscuous and an extremely difficult woman, but when it suits him Lord presents her as a martyred victim. The author's own right wing political views colour many of his judgments and are over-intrusive, as are his increasingly bitter personal judgments. A statement that Mortimer embellishes his anecdotes is accompanied by the non-sequitur "In other words they're lies?" Yet Lord is perfectly happy to use those anecdotes regularly in the book.

This could have been so much better if Lord had put aside his bitterness and his wish to shock to produce something properly researched and reasonably balanced. If Mortimer did withdraw any authorisation, he made the right decision.
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Format: Paperback
Its important that reviewers should be honest about their baggage. I am a big fan of John Mortimer's writing. But I have read and heard little of his politics that personally appealed. That matters not for enjoying his fiction. So I was very interested by the subject as little has been written about Mortimer and he's a significant figure in several ways.

It was apparent from the first two pages that the author, Mr Lord, an unfortunate surname in some respects for this book, was not going to be heaping uncritical praise on Mr Mortimer. In fact, it seemed to me he was really rather relishing the chance to scrape his claws down the subject's naked flesh. His charge that Mortimer hates god is not really justified in the pages that follow even if the subject finds shortcomings in religion. I'm with Mortimer on this one. So, we're in for a bubble pricking exercise, fasten your seatbelts. Mortimer and Rumpole for the defence, Lord as self-appointed chief prosecutor.

And emerges the subject as a character who is vain, philandering, dishonest, insecure, superficial, over-rated, camp, unattractive emotionally retarded, cowardly, faithless, bullying, sozzled, and slapdash. All charges supported by a range of character witnesses predominantly based around Mortimer's earlier life and first marriage. It's a scurrilous but utterly compelling read, the latter being essential for the author and the reader. It's well written and pacy as it might well be from such an experienced journalist. It's not without some praise for some of Mortimer's writing, and for his undoubted charm and mental agility. Oh yes, he can also cook a little and he's not a bad father, liberal with it.
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Apparently John Mortimer (egged on by his wicked literary agent) pulled out of a deal in which Graham Lord would write his biography. To say that Lord was annoyed, irritated or miffed by this decision would be an understatement. He was so incensed that he has written a hatchet job which reflects much more on his own personal failings than those of Mortimer.
Mortimer may well be ugly, lecherous, bibulous, a showoff, a humbug, a champagne socialist and, at times, a repetitive bore. However, unlike Lord, he has literary talent and has produced some of the funniest novels and most memorable characters in modern English fiction, such as Haverford Downs in Summer's Lease or Rumpole of the Bailey. A Voyage Around My Father is one of the best plays written in the latter half of the 20th century and was a fitting swan song for Laurence Olivier whose performance of the role of Mortimer's father was superb.
This is not to say he is a great writer and much of his work, particularly his so-called journalism - soft interviews with "personalities" and vapid "profiles" - is worthless. He may not have written the screenplay for Brideshead Revisited although why it has taken all this time for those involved to make this claim is a mystery. At the end of the day, these are trivial points and Mortimer certainly deserves better than this feeble job which is little more than a rummage through old newspaper cuttings. In one paragraph alone, Lord quotes interviews from the Times in 1960, the Telegraph in 1998, the Express in 1993, the Daily Mail in 2002, the Sunday Express magazine in 1991 and the Independent in 1999.
Take a tip from me - ignore this and buy Summer's Lease or Dunster or Under the Hammer or one of the Rumpole collections and read something by a talented writer and not this bilious diatribe full of spite and vanity from a literary midget.
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