This review is for the hardback book "Dear John", a biography of the film and television actor John le Mesurier, by his wife Joan le Mesurier. The book was originally printed by Sidgwick and Jackson of London in 2001.
The basis of the book is from the letters which John le Mesurier wrote to his wife, Joan le Mesurier. She had lovingly kept all of these letters and wrote back to him in the form of a long letter based on the history of their lives, the text of which is this book. The two had become married in 1965, and were to remain married for eighteen years until his death.
John le Mesurier is probably best known for his role as Sergeant Wilson in the hit BBC comedy based on the Home Guard during World War Two, "Dad's Army". He did however though appear in tens of films, ones that I can remember include "The Italian Job", "The Pink Panther" and "Jabberwocky", as well as many other television appearances.
The book details the two other famous figures in the lives of these two individuals, John's second marriage to the Carry On actor Hattie Jacques (his first marriage with June Melville had lasted for eight years), and also the relationship between Joan le Mesurier and Tony Hancock. There is only a limited amount of text about her affair with Tony Hancock in the 1960s, although she did cover this in another book entitled "Lady, Don't Fall Backwards".
There are mentions in the book of John's various television and film roles, but primarily this is a look at the romantic attachment that the two had, and an account of their lives together. So there is a limited appeal for fans of specific films, as there isn't much to be found here, but there are a lot of anecdotes which are interesting for those interested in British comedy generally from this period.
Joan's writing in the book is very affectionate, and it appears to be a genuine love which she had for her husband, and I got the feeling that she still desperately missed him after his death in 1983. The book also touches on the real problems which John le Mesurier had with alcohol, when he gave up, but became miserable, but then restarted and became much happier, even if it meant he died earlier than he might have otherwise have done.
I would say that the book isn't a heavyweight tome on the life of John le Mesurier, as unfortunately biographies written by close friends or family members can rarely ever achieve that. It is though a useful and interesting book to read, and it is very readable and easy to pick up and start reading.
The book is currently out of print, but is available still from some book-sellers at the retail price of 18.99 pounds. If you're happy with a second hand copy, at the time of writing these are available for around ten pounds including postage. It's not the cheapest book to get hold of second hand, but there are copies available if you look on book listing sites.
In summary, this is an interesting book, although I must admit that I found the structure of the book a little bit unnecessary, the whole letter to John about their lives. But that apart, the book appeared to have been written with some genuine warmth, although fell short of what I would call a really interesting and complete biography. But for an insight into one of comedy's greatest stars in the 1970s and in other decades, it's worth a look.
I really enjoy reading biographies and always find I learn a lot about the subject that I didn't know before. Recently, I read the Hattie Jacques biography by Andrew Merriman. Hattie was once married to Dad's Army star John Le Mesurier and I had a biography on him in my ever-growing 'To Be Read' pile, so I chose that to read next. I felt it would add an extra dimension to what I had learned about Hattie's life - and indeed it did.
Dear John is written by Joan Le Mesurier, who married John after he split up from Hattie Jacques. Joan has also written Lady Don't Fall Backwards, a memoir of her time with Tony Hancock, a TV adaptation of which was recently shown on BBC 4.
I began reading Dear John with the sole objective of discovering more about an actor I only really knew from Dad's Army, but had always liked in the role and felt he was a genuinely "nice bloke". I was soon swept up into the story and read steadily over the next few days, without my interest waning.
As the title suggests, the book is written as a tribute to John and includes copies of several letters he both wrote and received during the latter years of his life. These are often amusing and make a nice break from the usual chunks of standard text, but I still preferred the parts where Joan reminisced about her life with him and some of the things they did together.
John worked steadily throughout most of his life and the book is peppered with anecdotes about the plays, films, TV and radio work he was involved in. He also mentions his encounters and friendship with some of the actors he met - always staying the right side of 'luvvie' - including his co-stars of Dad's Army - Arthur Lowe, James Beck and Clive Dunn especially. Clive Dunn's tribute poem to John closes the book.
Not only did I find Dear John to be a fascinating read and easy to get into, I was also impressed by Joan's writing style. I assume she wrote it herself, as she has written a couple of others books, there is no mention of a ghost writer and her voice came over well.
Her warmth, love and affection for her late husband are very evident, but her words are never too sickly-sweet or overly sentimental. When reading it, I could almost visualize her writing it, smiling to herself remembering her husband and occasionally laughing out loud at some of the things he said and did.
John Le Mesurier seems to have been rather like Sergeant Wilson in real life too - a gentleman, old-fashioned, charming, intellectual, well-read and just that bit bumbling at times. But more of his character and personality show themselves too, especially his dry wit, sense of irony and clever witty retorts.
I enjoyed 'meeting' John Le Mesurier through his wife's words and memories and I liked both of them. I would definitely recommend Dear John to any of Le Mesurier's fans. Sadly, it is quite difficult to find this book these days, as it was published in 2001. I bought my copy from Ebay, but try the free book swapping sites or just borrow it from the library.
This review was first published on The Bookbag here -