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I have been a fan of Hattie Jacques for as long as I can remember. I loved the Carry On films since I was a young child and I also watched her in Sykes on TV and live on the stage twice in Lincoln and Blackpool. So when I heard that there was a biography out on her, I bought it as soon as I could.
Hattie by Andy Merriman is an authorized biography too, so this isn't some gossipy, muck-raking kind of life story. It has been written by Andy Merriman (son of comedy writer Eric) with the co-operation of Hattie's son, agent, friends and surviving co-stars.
Before this book, I only knew vague details about her career and private life, but reading Hattie really brought out her personality and character. She comes across as warm, funny, generous, loving, caring and willing to help as many people as she could - whether by fund-raising for charity or offering a bed, a meal or a friendly ear for any friend who needed one.
Her career is also detailed from her early days to her work with the Player's Theatre to her more famous roles on radio, TV and the stage. Along the way, we read about her marriage to Dad's Army star John Le Mesurier, which wasn't always happy and involved infidelities on both sides, but produced their two sons, Robin and Kim (later known as Jake).
The Carry On films get discussed, of course, along with her relationships with her co-stars, especially Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims, who seemed to be her best friends amongst the cast. There are extracts from Kenneth's diaries and Joan's autobiography to back up Merriman's comments.
The Sykes series gets a fair bit of time in the book too, following the various incarnations of the television series with Hattie playing Eric Sykes's sister. Afterwards, they both toured the stage version and their trip to South Africa awakened Hattie to the realities of living with apartheid.
The disintegrating relationship between her and Eric is also explained, as Eric became professionally jealous of the love that audiences showed Hattie and tried to reduce her lines and laughs. By the time of her death, her family resented Eric's treatment of her so much, that he was banned from attending the funeral.
For any fans of Hattie, this biography is a must buy. I learnt so much from it and the information was generally well-documented and easy to follow, being presented chronologically.
It does slightly lack some warmth in the writing at times though and can read more like an historical textbook. While I do admire Merriman's quest for accuracy and appreciate his use of legitimate sources, his writing style is often rather cold and unemotional and his passion for the subject only shows itself rarely.
The biography is obviously pro-Hattie Jacques and even though her faults and misdemeanors are reported, a comment is always made which excuses it somehow or at least is presented as being part of a wider, much more positive picture. As a fan myself, I didn't mind this too much, but it still grated somewhat.
I was fascinated to read about her life and learnt so much. I admire her even more now, than I did before reading the book and I certainly feel I know more about her private side and what she was really like.
One of Hattie's great problems in life was her weight and this is mentioned throughout. Being obese myself, I could certainly understand her issues with this and some of the newspaper headlines and reviews of the time were constantly referring to her size, often in an offensive manner. She tried dieting on and off, but eventually her love of food seemed to win out and her weight certainly contributed to her health problems of later years.
The last few chapters on the biography and sad ones, with her ill health, her death in 1980, her funeral and what happened to one of her sons. I was pleased to see there is a section updating on the lives of the surviving main players in her life, who had been mentioned in the book.
The biography was published in September 2007 and is beautifully designed with a stunning cover photo of Hattie and sixteen pages of black and white photos, including cast shots and family photos.
Despite its faults, this is the only biography out on Hattie Jacques and overall, it is a very good one. I bought mine from Amazon for £12.99, but the cover price of the hardback copy is £16.99.
At over 230 pages, it also includes a list of most of Hattie's work engagements over the years. Her career spanned from 1939 to 1980 and her legendary status is surely guaranteed. Hattie will forever be the iconic matron in the Carry On films, but to her family, friends and fans, she was so much more, as this biography brings out.
For over thirty years Hattie Jacques was a familiar presence on radio (Hancock's "Half Hour"), television (60 episodes of "Sykes" alone) and film (she was a stalwart of the "Carry On" series). But her stage persona of a buxom, masterful female dragon who, both literally and figuratively, carried all before her (the formidable matron of "Carry On, Nurse" was a typical role) could hardly have been more at odds with her off-stage personality. Warm, impetuous and generous to a fault, she was almost pathetically grateful for any show of affection and painfully self-conscious about her figure which, she believed, had caused her to be type-cast in comic roles and never given the opportunity to tackle more serious parts. In 1947, after a tempestuous wartime affair with an American officer, she married the actor John Le Mesurier who was persuaded to divorce her in 1965 - though only after she had moved her chauffeur-lover into the marital home. It was, however typical of her that she actively encouraged Le Mesurier to remarry and the two remained firm friends until her death. Her lover's subsequent desertion was a bitter blow from which she never fully recovered, though she compensated my involving herself deeply in charity work and becoming a confidante to many of the young actors and actresses with whom she worked. This biography has been written with the help and encouragement of Hattie's surviving son and her many friends, including Barbara Windsor, Clive Dunn, Bill Pertwee and John Le Mesurier. This is the first full biography of one of Britain's best-loved actresses. It reveals the secrets of the sometimes strange and often sad private life that was concealed behind the matronly facade. It is written with the full cooperation and support of Hattie's family and friends.