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Vivian and I Paperback – 30 Sep 2010
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'The real Withnail laid bare' --ShortList
'A bittersweet biography' --The Chap
'This is an odd book: an exhaustive biography of a complete nobody...there was evidently more to this personality than the grotesque tragedy that is Withnail' --The Spectator
About the Author
Colin Bacon was educated in Nottingham. After art-college and travelling, mainly through France, he settled in the West Country and qualified as a teacher, leaving after fifteen years to pursue other interests. He has two grown-up children and now lives in Newlyn where, as well as writing, he works with his wife running a successful art cards publishing company.
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Top customer reviews
This is one of the oddest little books I've ever read. the author apparently had a tenuous connection with someone that had a tenuous connection with a 1980's cult film. Over the past thirty years Bruce Robinson has emphasised many times that Withnail was not a portrait of one person - but an amalgam of a few people he knew at a certain time and place. He reiterates that here to Colin Bacon at the outset and henceforward keeps a respectable arms length from any involvement in this dubious project.
The essential problem here seems to be that Colin Bacon doesn't really seem to have known Vivian Mackerell particularly well. It's hard to fathom just what their relationship was other than that Bacon had heard about him from their Swinging Nottingham days. He approaches various people to help fill in the blanks but most of them offer little other than "Oh yeah, Viv... very good-looking... always drunk". Most anecdotes begin with Viv turning up at someone's house, drinking a case or two of wine and end with him having to have the vomit scraped from his classically tailored tweed breeches. All the while Bacon continually insists that Mackerell was "without doubt a star"...
Except that he wasn't was he? A handful of stage appearances, one or two film/tv roles - even his friends concede that he wasn't much good as an actor. No-one would ever have heard of him without Withnail. And there's nothing here to suggest what that star quality might have been like. Most pubs in the country have one or two charismatic, if sick-stained, drunks propping up the bar - good for a funny line or two. Not necessarily worth a whole obsequious biography though.
Names are dropped thick and fast, but the average reader is unlikely to have heard of most of them. Mainly struggling drama students never to be heard of ever again, Bacon views them as an impossibly glamorous in-crowd, but again his writing fails to convey what might be special about them. The book reads as an interminably tedious account of seventies student life. Drinking, spliffing, trying to get women into bed, listening to Pink Floyd and David Bowie. It's all pretty average, run of the mill and slightly dated stuff. As pointed out in other reviews here, grammar and factual mistakes abound. It might be that this is a conscious effort to reflect Vivian/Withnail's own character which might have been an interesting approach had the author really gone for it. But unfortunately I don't think that's the case here - he just needs an editor to tidy the mess up.
One of the most irritating aspects of the 'narrative' is whenever a line of enquiry about Mackerell peters out (and they always do), Bacon begins unrolling anecdotes about his own life and experiences. These are longer and even more pitiably tedious than his tales of Mackerell.
I read Bruce Robinson's Smoking in Bed a few years ago and the same person that bought me that has bought me this volume. Robinson's book was funny, interesting and full of insight not only into Withnail & I but writing and film-making in general. Sadly Bacon's book is about very little indeed. You come away from this book knowing scarcely anything more about Vivian Mackerell than you knew when you started and a whole lot more about Colin Bacon than you could ever wish to know.
The thinness of material relating to Mackerell borders on actionable. The author's repeated and intrusive observations on the superior authorship of the other contributors in the book is boring and annoying, but unfortunately for Colin Bacon, accurate. The laziness of the research is really unforgiveable. Mr Bacon states that 'he wanted his journey of discovery to lead to meeting lots of celebrities'. There is a strong sense that the possibilty of meeting famous people was the real motivating factor in writing this book, with the accompanying sense of disappointment that he did not get to meet as many celebrities as he had hoped.
Mr Bacon uses every opportunity to segue from the little material there is on Mackerell to comparisons with his own, appallingly tedious experience. 'Mackerell went to parties and consumed vast quantities of drugs and alcohol....which reminds me of a party I went to where drugs and aclochol were consumed'...., etc, etc.
In one horrific anecdote, Mr Bacon breezily relates how 'a friend' invites him to carrying on copulating with his girlfriend in a group sex situation at one of the charming parties Mr Bacon frequented in his youth. Despite noticing that the young woman appears to be comatose at that point, he responds to exhortations to his friend's invitation to 'go forth and finish her off' with a revolting 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' description of events. It seems odd to me to brag about being a rapist in print, but then the whole book is odd.
There are a few poignant moments, mainly centred on Mackerell's own correspondence from his final days. A sense of the innate charisma and likeability of the man does come through, with a conviction that like Mackerell's friends you would be charmed and exasperated by him in equal measure.
Bruce Robinson expressed reservations about contributing to this book. Now it is published, he must be heaving huge sighs of relief that he has not tainted himself by association.....
Goodness, look at me talking to a rich person. Oooh, this one's famous.
As a paper book, it is an oddity, but be warned, there is nothing Withnail about this. It's just weird and unhelpful.
I feel as though I've stumbled into a cult publication.
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