Sheridan Morley was an old enemy of mine, so I was thrilled to see him brilliantly denounced and called to account by Jonathan Croall in his first-class book about writing a book, In Search of Gielgud: A Biographer’s Tale (Herbert Adler Publishing, £10.95). Morley is called an ‘arrogant, self-important and spectacularly lazy hack’, whose work was ‘sycophantic and severely lacking in depth’. One almost feels sorry for the old boy.
Staying with the theatrical theme, Covering Shakespeare by David Weston (Oberon Books, £14.99) is a highly recommended rollicking account of being a jobbing actor. ‘I always thought I’d do Bottom one day,’ says Weston, who was Ian McKellen’s understudy as Lear, ‘but it was not to be.’ It is not generally known that Peggy Ashcroft had an earpiece under her wig so that she could listen to cricket commentaries, or that Edith Evans believed the secret of stage-acting was to ‘stare out front and think dirty’. Hard to grasp what she really meant by that.
Most civilised book of the season is Bevis Hillier’s Going For a Song (Hopcyn Press, £20 ), an anthology of poems about antiques — Keats’s urn and so forth. I am something of an antique myself and am to judge the Oldie of the Year Awards. I hope to find a category for Sister Wendy Beckett, who always makes me laugh and laugh.