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The Thick of It - Complete Collection [DVD] [2005]
The Thick of It - Complete Collection [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Rebecca Front
Price: £15.99

4.0 out of 5 stars 'Is that good-natured joshing?', 5 Oct. 2016
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When originally broadcast, this series passed me by - incredible really, as I am both a fan of comedy and Armando Ianucci's creations - so I plumped for the red briefcase boxset when I saw it on Amazon and I was not disappointed. It is bloody brilliant.

About 150+ reviews in, there isn't a great deal to say that hasn't already been said about this show - centred on the Westminster bubble, and the machinations of the governing, and later, opposing political parties. The performances, clever plots and wonderful script-writing all combine to make TToI rightfully the highly-rated political satire it is now regarded as. As other reviewer's have said, the show's high-pressure scenarios jam-packed with panic and various 'omnishambles' make one believe that this could well be representative of what goes on at the heart of government. One very clever aspect of the entire run is the slight ambiguity of which of the series' parties represent Labour and Conservative - having not watched or heard any interviews/extras/commentary on the series, it appears obvious that Tucker's party is Labour and Mannion's is Tory; but this is never explicitly confirmed in any episode. This in itself is a very subtle satire of how both parties during the 2000s became unnervingly similar with wealthy career politicians on both sides of the house, with this detail (or indeed lack of) allowing the show more freedom in the expression of all the characters.

I have watched the episodes multiple times and tend to binge on them every year or so, with TToI being one of my all-time favourite series. So why not five stars? Two main reasons for that.

Firstly, it is an inescapable, yet uncomfortable fact that Chris Langham's performances provided many of the funniest moments of the entire run. the first six episodes with him as the lead character (depending on how you view Capaldi's Tucker) are my absolute favourite. The dynamic between Langham and the regular cast - Capaldi especially - was glorious, and once Langham had been (rightly) sacked after events in 2006, most episodes thereafter became the Malcolm Tucker show, as funny as that was at times. Rebecca Front stepped in for Langham's Abbot by Series 3 as the equally hapless and bumbling Nicola Murray, and as much as I enjoyed her role in the show it just wasn't the same.

My other gripe is with the last series. Series 1-3, and one of the two specials 'Rise of the Nutters' are an absolute joy. However, Series 4, and 'Spinners and Losers' have some great moments, but I simply didn't find the dynamic of the opposition party (who by S4 became the coalition government) anywhere near as entertaining as the Tucker/Abbot/Murray party; even when the two sides cross paths in certain episodes. At the risk of sounding like an inverted snob, there were many points within Series 4 (and a few in Series 3) where the writers appeared to shoehorn the old Oxbridge Revue brigade, with unfunny cameos from likes of Miles Jupp, Tom Hollander and a regular stint from Will Smith (noted that Smith contributed to the writing, so respect for that). Series 4, for me, was too reliant on one-liners and barbs when compared to Series 1 and 2. S4 however did come alive during the final episodes - I've probably spoilt things enough so I won't say any more!

The ever-present advisers and civil servants across all four series - Joanna Scanlon, James Smith and Chris Addison who play Terri, Glenn and Ollie respectively - are fantastic; as are the brief appearances by Paul Higgins (Jamie) and Alex Macqueen (Julius).

And for those who care (I don't), there are next to no additional features on the DVDs, save for the cast/crew commentaries.

If you are a fan of either political satire, or Armando Ianucci's cannon, then this series is compulsive viewing. Outstanding.

Paranormal Entity 1-4 Collection [DVD]
Paranormal Entity 1-4 Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shane Van Dyke
Price: £7.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A case of mistaken id(Entity), 19 Feb. 2014
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I too am among the somewhat puzzling number of people who mistakenly bought either this compilation, or indeed the individual instalments, believing that I was getting a 'Paramormal Activity' product. When this turned up I groaned loudly, and upon checking the mistake was indeed mine, but decided to view without prejudice - even with the knowledge that the 'Paranormal Entity' films are mockbusters, i.e. shameless rip-offs of the more famous franchise and other films. And despite the constant bashing the genre receives, I really enjoy most hand-held/found footage horror, so... how bad could this collection really be?

Quite bad as it happens. Watching in sequential order, the first film of course heavily apes the infiltrated suburban home scenario of 'Paranormal Activity', but with a much more confined feel. Less intense, less plausible and generally inferior in every way to PA, the film does nevertheless retain some interest with some good set-piece frights and minor twists (2/5 rating). The second film combines elements of the PA films with 'The Inside' and 'Grave Encounters', which are both decent and enjoyable low-budget found-footage examples. This time, the setting is a ficticious abandoned home of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. It is definitely an improvement on the original; and although faults with poor scripting and acting remain, the atmosphere is there and thus the film is halfway decent (3/5 rating). So the franchise is steadily improving you may think?

Wrong. Very, very wrong. Paranormal Entity 3 ranks amongst the worst and most disjointed films I have ever had the misfortune to sit through. Taking the found footage setting to a series of state recordings in what can only be described as 'redneck Bavaria', the film tries to meld 'The Exorcist' and a bizarre depression-era feel of modern Germany... PE3 is interspersed with far, far too much meaningless filler - such as excruciatingly long recordings of a posessed girl communicating in Aramaic (no subtitles, against a black screen) pointless character interviews, and terribly executed passages of the camera following illegible journal hand-writing that is supposed to progress the plot. As far as action goes - which summates to around ten minutes - the film shamelessly borrows famous Exorcist moments and actually manages to make them dull. Really, this is a 0/5 rating without exaggeration.

So when the people behind this franchise hit rock bottom, the optimistic view is that the fouth installment can only be better - and it actually is a marked improvement. Clearly realising PE2 was the best offering to date, PE4 revisits the haunted house-type scenario and expands it to an institutional environment, being set in a ficticious medical dormitory where real-life murderer Richard Speck raped and killed eight female nurses. This film, like the second epsiode, continues to borrow from 'Grave Encounters' and adds a bit of 'Session 9' for good measure. This time, the writers did reasonably well, and subtly implement known facts from the Speck murders as similar fates befall the hapless ghosthunter slash-fodder. Definitely the best of the series, it also has relatively improved production values over its predecessors. The CGI-generated indeterminate killing entity is a disappointment, but this is the one film within the whole PE canon that I would actually purchase intentionally (3.5/5 rating).

As an overall summary, the series is poor - I give it 3 stars for trying but it is more like a 2.5. If you must sample PE, buy PE4; but even then, far better examples of low-budget horror exist (whether hand-held or not). The other films which I have cited in this review are recommended viewing and much more complete as films than anything to be found within this bunch.

9.79* [DVD]
9.79* [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ben Johnson
Price: £7.68

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Seoul Crew Revisited..., 19 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: 9.79* [DVD] (DVD)
It is highly unlikely that anyone stumbling onto this product page will be unfamiliar with the doping landmark that was the 100m men's final, held during the XXIV Olympiad in Seoul 1988. It follows then that even those with a basic interest for track and field athletics will be aware of the seismic ramifications of Ben Johnson's positive test result at those games; both on Johnson's own career and how public perception of high achievement has been tarnished across the sporting spectrum since.

What many people will not know is that of the eight finalists competing on that fateful day - Robson da Silva, Ray Stewart, Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Calvin Smith, Ben Johnson, Desai Williams and Dennis Mitchell - six have since been associated, to varying degrees, with performance enhancing drugs during their competitive careers. Whereas the excellent Richard Moore book, 'The Dirtiest Race in History' [2012] gives a great insight into the opposing worlds of Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis, this documentary does give a bit more balance toward the other competing athletes through their own thoughts on the race from interviews throughout, and where applicable, direct address of their association with performance enhancing dalliances. Understandably however, the major individual pieces within 9.79 are on Johnson and Lewis themselves.

As well as the athletes, managers and coaches are interviewed fairly extensively, in addition to significantly weighted discussion with anti-doping official Don Catlin. His comments are the most interesting of all and piece together the chemical warfare within 1980s athletics, with much in the way of 'filling in the blanks' that the athletes don't quite get to themselves, for obvious reasons. Another great contributor is Angela Issajenko - an adopted Canadian 1980s athlete like Williams and Johnson - who is forthright about attitudes exhibited by coaches and competitors alike regarding drugs during the athletics `Golden Age'. As she effectively confessed all during the Dubin enquiry (footage of her testimony is included), she doesn't pull any punches here.

The documentary production is a combined effort between ESPN, BBC and other broadcasters. Hence the resulting archive footage within, not only of the 1988 final but of training clips and other relevant athletics events is plentiful and very good quality. There is also very interesting footage of the subsequent Dubin enquiry and testimony, race promoter interviews and Johnson's former coach Charlie Francis; all of which flesh out the state of 1980s athletics around this watershed moment, the popularity peak of the sport and the attitude of Johnson's coach to building the perfect sprinter. The anti-doping factual segments are quite haunting, and tantalisingly implicate some of the athletes on show without overtly naming names.

I was very pleased with the way 9.79 was put together, not only in terms of presentation but also the clarifications and explanations within for positive tests of the various athletes. For example, it was welcome to see the correct facts around Carl Lewis' 1988 Olympics trials drugs tests put forward, with due emphasis on the fact these would not register as positive by today's standards. I was also pleased to see some difficult questions being put forward to Lewis, Stewart and Mitchell under interview - although as you would expect, these barbs were neatly sidestepped.

The best aspect of 9.79 for me is the clarity in which one can see the contrasting attitudes of the competitors, twenty-five years on from that race. Some are predictable - Lewis' bluster and Mitchell's/Christie's somewhat nonchalant outlooks; Smith's controlled but clear bitterness at having been overshadowed as a clean athlete and Da Silva's carefree, 'pleased to be there and I can sleep easy at night' perspective, as the other untainted finalist. But I was surprised that I found Williams and Johnson especially under interview much more humble than I expected - interestingly both Canadians seemed repentant and regretful but were honest with what the ethos of 1980s athletics expected of them in order to win, and their resulting reliance on PEDs to achieve those expectations. Ray Stewart is probably the least featured of the athletes, but even his words carry weight on the introspective.

Minor criticisms - Lewis in particular is not put under enough duress for my liking when discussing his positive results which came to light in 2003. And there seems to have been a mental block by all concerned that suspicion over Christie was aroused as early as just prior to the 1988 games, where the 'Ginseng Tea' explanation was applied to his discovered levels of Pseudoephedrine - both stimulant and circumstance were extremely similar to Lewis' revealed results and hence it surprises me that a similar deal wasn't made over the British athlete. Perhaps Christie declined to discuss it...

To get all the athletes involved for 9.79 was an incredible achievement; especially considering the difficulty most writers and interviewers have in securing Carl Lewis for such discussion. Five stars for this documentary because the final product manages to segregate or cut through the crap, and leaves the viewer clear on who did or who was suspected of what - and despite this story being a well-trodden path now, the interviews and research manage to offer both new information and perspective. The apportioning of sympathy is left to the viewer, but it is clear that Johnson has been made a pariah for drug cheats in sport - even with the double-whammy during 1980s athletics of highly likely US corruption in handling positive tests and the last vestiges of the East German state doping plan 14.25. It is hard not to feel sorry for Johnson at times during 9.79, especially when seeing him rummage around in his basement, with all his remaining medals thrown in a box.

Requisite viewing for any sports fan.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 6, 2015 10:40 PM GMT

When The Wind Blows [DVD] [1986]
When The Wind Blows [DVD] [1986]
Dvd ~ Peggy Ashcroft
Price: £8.13

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's help build Mr. Bloggs' fallout shelter or inner refuge, 17 Jun. 2013
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In the last year or so, I have developed somewhat of an obsession with films and books based on the ideas of nuclear wars or post-nuclear survival. Not having the mental fortitude to sit through 'Threads' again, the idea of this animated tale on such a topic definitely appealed, and for a multitude of reasons - a tale from the renowned Raymond Briggs, glowing reviews from others and a plot that seemed right up my street. And after watching 'When The Wind Blows', I was certainly not disappointed.

Plot synopses and story settings should be familiar to anyone who has reached my review - but it is worth noting how effective the story dynamic is in pitting two loveable but painfully naive everyday people against the harshest of realities. The whole notion of nuclear war and associated bomb attacks are horrors (thankfully) relatively few people have experienced - therefore the idea of temperature extremes, blinding light, radiation fallout and bleak decimated landscapes are almost fantasy in the imagination of most, and therefore a good animated story such as this one expands that fantasy, with accompanying dream-like sequences throughout Jim's various monologues or other salient junctures in the film. The resulting combination of great animation, thoroughly enjoyable storyline and great characters that just demand empathy from the viewer means this is a very unique and gripping take on the idea of nuclear war.

It is almost impossible to review any serious film about nuclear attacks without mentioning the BBC production 'Threads' in review. In this instance though, it is worth making that comparison. Like 'Threads', this story superimposes a nightmarish disaster upon the simple, regular lives of British residents. Many images and symbolic scenes are also common - the focus on home-made shelters, melting milk bottles, nuclear barren expanses replacing green and pleasant land and so forth. But unlike 'Threads', we are spared the wrist-slashingly hopeless-upon-hopeless descent into hell and endless suffering, and instead given more humanity, and God forbid, even humour during the darkest moments of Jim and Hilda's ordeal. The real genius of the script-writing is the way that Hilda's obliviousness and Jim's amusing pragmatism make us realise the sheer futility of such a situation, and the total ineffectiveness of governmental or local council advice that existed during the shadow of the Cold War years. Jim's confusion about some of the recommendations within the 'Protect and Survive' leaflets, whilst exaggerated for comic purposes, is a pointed jab at some contradictions that really existed in the advice, and the impracticality of some of the suggestions that were expected in the effort to survive nuclear attacks. Therefore, just like 'Threads', the viewer really feels as though, regardless of the best efforts of the individuals, most everyday people are dead the moment the nuclear warhead goes off no matter how proper the preparations; whether instant death or a matter of days thereafter.

Without giving much away in terms of exact plotlines, as the situation takes its toll on the couple, the film does become very sad and the final scenes are really emotive. The watcher will come away from this story saddened, with much to think about - it is melancholic to consider how people's lives, their past, their interactions and their way of life would be so brutally and completely wiped out in the event of a nuclear strike. But unlike 'Threads', hopefully some inspiration will be there too - thanks to the great characters of Jim and Hilda. Unmissable.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2016 8:39 AM BST

ST42B3CM Glass TV Stand
ST42B3CM Glass TV Stand

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who needs IKEA or Habitat?, 17 Jun. 2013
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I purchased this TV and peripheral stand in February 2013, and during the last 4 months since I have been mighty pleased with this product. Despite noting and double-checking the unit dimensions, the assembled stand gave much more space for my kit than I anticipated, comfortably accommodating my Samsung 42", wireless headphone stand, Virgin Media Tivo box and wireless 'Super Hub', separate DVD player and PS2. The unit was very easy to assemble and for the price, has a very polished feel. The tempered glass has a lovely dark finish - only downsides are that dust becomes noticeable very quickly, and the lack of a backboard means cabling and such is visible; but these are somewhat superficial observations. A friend, who bought a somewhat similar stand from IKEA for more than double the price, has gone on record as saying he wishes he had thought of Amazon for this sort of item.

I have to make a few comments regarding my specific delivery - Richer Sounds, who provide this product at the time of writing, use DPD Couriers for delivery. I have had terrible experiences with DPD in the past, and the first attempted delivery of this item resulted in the box being full of shattered glass shelves where DPD had man-handled the package (or otherwise exercised their reputed ineptitude). However Richer Sounds were nothing short of excellent in their handling of the situation, and promptly dispatched a replacement. I never comment on anything other than the product on Amazon reviews, but in this instance it is worth knowing that the seller was impressive in handling delivery issues.

The stand looks great in my room and I would definitely recommend this unit over the much more expensive alternatives - both High Street equivalents and other products on this site.

Greatest Athletes [3DVD]
Greatest Athletes [3DVD]

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Requisite viewing for any fans of Track and Field, 16 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: Greatest Athletes [3DVD] (DVD)
This DVD set, comprising three discs, contains eight History Channel biographies on some of the greatest Olympians in history. Each biography varies between 25-35 minutes, and the collection covers sporting legends Carl Lewis, Ed Moses, Heike Dreschler, Michael Johnson, Sergei Bubka, Nadia Comăneci, Haile Gebrselassie and the inescapable and ubiquitous Usain Bolt. Clearly this DVD set was released to engage the Olympic-hungry punters (July 2012), and as such I am surprised this is the first review. The good thing of course about an Olympic games is the increased coverage of certain sports - via books, journalism and DVDs - which are normally thin on the ground in those respects!

This collection is without doubt the best obtainable documentary coverage I have seen of the above athletes and their careers, excluding only TV-exclusive documentaries such as the BBC 2012 retrospective of famous Olympians. The biographies on the DVDs do a great job of balanced interviews with the stars themselves (where possible), coaches, colleagues, rivals and other competitors or current athletes inspired by those being discussed. A major plus is the amount of unseen footage of most individuals within; especially early videos of Nadia Comăneci in training. All the biographies are well-researched in the main, and with much more respectable production value than these sorts of sporting documentaries usually exhibit. I found all the stories very interesting, with some especially absorbing; in particular the lengthy and well-deserved appraisal of Carl Lewis and the fascinating political background to Heike Dreschler's circumstances competing as an East German athlete, pre- and post-1989. And although Nadia Comăneci is the only non track and field star represented in these DVDs, her story is equally engaging.

In fact, Nadia Comăneci's inclusion brings me to the minor criticisms I have of this set. Not a particular problem of course, but to feature seven athletics stars and one gymnast does seem a little odd as a mix. However, what does cause a bit of confusion is whether this collection is supposed to be specifically about great Olympians, or great athletes. Granted, all the people covered within the DVDs have won at least one Olympic gold medal, but many may wonder why on Earth Al Oerter, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and particularly Michael Phelps were not included - although perhaps it is unfair to level this criticism, as I suspect the History Channel documentaries were commissioned prior to the idea of releasing the collection as a DVD. In addition, only someone as dull as myself could spot a few factual inaccuracies (Carl Lewis not winning a major sprint medal post-1991 is simply wrong - Stuttgart 1993 200m WC bronze), and an elephant does appear in the room when covering the East German state doping plan 14.25, of which Heike Dreschler was almost certainly a participant - although it must be stressed, by compulsion of the state as opposed to cheating for individual gain. However, a documentary which celebrates sporting greats cannot really start to condemn those covered as liars and drug cheats!

The above points prevent 'Greatest Athletes' from getting five stars from me. But the collection is certainly a thoroughly enjoyable watch for anyone with a bit more than a passing interest in Olympics and particularly track and field. Recommended.

Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike
Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike
by William Fotheringham
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So THIS is Eddie Merckx, 25 July 2012
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Eddy Merckx. For people like me, whose knowledge or interest in road racing commences after the 70s, that name was something of a faceless, ubiquitous imprint all over the record books. Go to Wikipedia and look up the winners of Grand Tours and classics between 1968 and 1976; you will see 'Eddy Merckx' everywhere. Having got long accustomed to seeing and hearing the name without much actual appreciation of the owner, I thought it was time to find out more about the legendary cyclist.

William Fotheringham has put this biography together in a brilliant fashion. He gives some wonderful passage to Merckx's rise, and focusses on many rivals and team-mates/domestiques who were present during the great man's career. Fotheringham also does a brilliant job of putting Merckx's achievements into true perspective - particularly his one-hour record, and the fact that unlike today, there was no dedication to a single tour - Merckx, `The Cannibal', rode to win anywhere he could. When someone truly dominates their sport, such as Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Eddie Merckx, their resulting achievements can sometimes lose a bit of impact purely because there are so many statistics and high numbers to take in. Happily, the author manages to give weight and appropriate significance to many of Merckx's victories, and builds a picture of an unstoppable athlete, well ahead of his peers both physically and mentally during his dominant years - at a time when those self-same peers were often legends in their own right.

Now because I have no memories or recollections of Merckx during his career (because I wasn't around at the time), this book is the only personal insight into the man and his records that I have encountered - I therefore read this biography without prejudice. But I do think Fotheringham occasionally veers ever so slightly away from impartiality. As an example, Merckx's positive drug tests are covered; with his first, dubious result in 1969 given analysis, albeit with the impression that Merckx was more likely innocent than guilty. However, Merckx's second positive result is glossed over and his third - the one Merckx himself admits to - is not even mentioned. I would also have preferred Fotheringham to expand a bit more on Merckx's post-race years - the book does end fairly quickly after reaching his competitive retirement.

That said, these gripes are minor - this book is worthy of at least 4½ out of 5 stars - and is a thoroughly entertaining delve into the career of the definitive road legend. Merkxissimo!

Pete Sampras: A Champion's Mind
Pete Sampras: A Champion's Mind
by Pete Sampras
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable evening with Pistol Pete, 20 Jun. 2012
This book, coupled with the DVD 'Legends of Wimbledon: Pete Sampras', manages to showcase some of the less observed sides to 'Pistol Pete'. It is true that Pete gave away very little in interviews and features during his career, but written together with Peter Bodo, some fascinating insights are to be found in this autobiography.

It is worth repeating what others have said when comparing this to Agassi's book - the two men were and are very different characters; and differences between their respective autobiographies mirror their characteristics. Not everyone liked the outgoing Agassi and not everyone liked the reserved and somewhat introverted Sampras; and I expect the same opinions will be reflected by readers of their books.

Unlike the dramatic narrative of Agassi's 'Open', 'A Champion's Mind' is a more direct and descriptive journey through the Sampras life story. One of the more interesting aspects of the book, as implied by the title, is how Sampras approached the tennis tournaments he excelled at, especially Wimbledon and the US Open. I felt as though Sampras feared very little in these situations, and passage to the later stages of tournaments was not ever in doubt. All the familiar questions about his professional achievements are raised, and adroitly answered (lack of French Open title, rivalry with Agassi, passing of the flame to Roger Federer and his interest in the Davis Cup). Sampras also gives his thoughts on many contemporaries - amusingly, he doesn't seem too bothered in a competitive sense by his fellow Americans - save for Agassi - and rather frankly sums up his fairly impressive head-to-head records against them: Courier, Martin, Chang and Wheaton. Sampras does allow some exposure to his private life, but as you would expect, the gaze isn't permitted too far.

The book is enjoyable, particularly if you were a fan of tennis during the 'final age' of serve-volleying, and when all surfaces last had appreciable differences in speed (as opposed to the identical slow courts we have across the spectrum now, tailor-made for endlessly dull baseline slugfests with little or no finesse). No real shocks are delivered here, although the odd unkind comment made against rivals does raise a wry grin. But then that is Sampras. If one wants controversy and (admittedly entertaining) hyperbole by the bucketload, then seek out Agassi's offering. If however you are more interested in the no-frills approach to attaining sporting legend, then this book is definitely worth reading.

Jonny: My Autobiography
Jonny: My Autobiography
by Jonny Wilkinson
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jonny, we're sorry..., 17 Jun. 2012
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I was absolutely infuriated about how Jonny Wilkinson was treated by both British press and much of the public during, and after, the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Oh how short the public memory can be - and how fickle the armchair sports pundit. One of the many reasons this book is a must-read is that Jonny never let much slip in interviews during his career, being the consummate professional he is. But here, every possible emotion JW has experienced in his lengthy career is poured forth without compromise. After the first few chapters of this book, only the most informed of people on JW will not be stunned by what he has to say.

The perfectionist nature of the man is known - but learning the extent to which this trait has consumed his life came as a shock. The frank and sometimes distorted view JW has about his own talents and abilities are unbelievable. After reading quite a few Rugby Union autobiographies now - Ronan O'Gara, Lewis Moody, Martin Johnson and Donncha O'Callaghan among them - it is clear that a lot of insecurity exists in large union squads about competition for places. Keen to know how this affected JW during his significant spells through injury, I was extremely saddened by what I read. The man has had, despite the large point totals and achievements, a bittersweet career; and one of the most interesting points of the book is how the 2003 victory represented both a zenith and a nadir in his life.

Of every single sporting autobiography I have ever read, in terms of brutal honesty, only 'Open' by Andre Agassi comes remotely close to this. However, JW's book, unsurprisingly, is without any of the razzmatazz and hyperbole of 'Open', which leaves the reader with the closest thing to the working of a sporting mind yet written. Fantastic prose and style, and, despite the aforementioned serious insight, there is some humour and fun along the way.

I would go as far as to suggest that everyone who claims to be an English union fan should read this book. JW has been the ultimate professional and servant for his country; and all without the gaffs from Botham and public vulgarity of Beckham. Anyone who rubbished JW during injury, or forgot what he has achieved should read this and then feel truly ashamed of themselves. An utterly compelling read.

The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova: Their Rivalry, Their Friendship, Their Legacy
The Rivals: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova: Their Rivalry, Their Friendship, Their Legacy
by Johnette Howard
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Fitting book for the Queens of the court, 14 Jun. 2012
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For all the talk of greatest tennis rivalries in the professional era - Borg/McEnroe, Edberg/Lendl, Graf/Seles, Agassi/Sampras and Federer/Nadal - for my money, there is only one contender: the amazing rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

All the basic ingredients for a great head-to-head provide a good foundation for this book - vastly different upbringings, different playing styles, different public opinions - but as author Johnette Howard conveys, there is a lot more to take in regarding these two seminal tennis icons.

Howard describes Evert's merciless advance to the top of the women's game from a very young age; and in parallel, takes the reader through the hell Navratilova was enduring in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia, and her subsequent defection to the USA. By the time one is halfway through the book, it is quite amazing to think how Navratilova could even concentrate on tennis, bearing in mind the complete turmoil of her personal life - far less become such a dominant player. Howard also charts, in a truly engaging fashion, how Evert and Navratilova perceived each other on the court, and how these perceptions changed over time.

A book about these players, who shared one of the longest rivalries in tennis, will have no end of riches to draw from (with them having played 80 matches, and amazingly, the split is close to even). Howard does a great job in highlighting the salient periods, when dominance shifted from one to the other, and some of the most amazing fightbacks in tennis between the two.

The focus on both players is set within the shift of the women's game during the late 70s/early 80s, and as a separate arc, the book charts the rise of Evert/Navratilova alongside the fight from Billie Jean King et al to put women's tennis on a more equal footing with the men's game. Howard's discussion on how Evert and Navratilova sometimes aided, and sometimes hindered this movement is of significant importance and great interest.

If I have a slight qualm it is that Navratilova gets more focus than Evert, both in terms of personal life and major career finals; but then that does stand to reason. Overall, this is an excellent read.

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