Friday, November 13, 2015


The bad, the interesting, the good ... 

DORNFORD YATES: A BIOGRAPHY by A J Smithers 1982 H&S isbn 0340384735

Three books, two on similar subjects; bios, the third a comprehensive historical work. Perhaps the bios could be considered historical works as well, so all three have something in common.

I’ve never read a Dornford Yates (real name Cecil William Mercer) book. Having laboured for many months through Smithers’ bio, I’m positive I never will. It’s not unusual for authors to base works of fiction on their own lives. Yates did, apparently, to more than the usual degree.

This bio would certainly have been welcomed by readers familiar with the author’s books and characters. To the uninitiated like myself, it’s a confusing hodge-podge of real life events and extracts from Yates’ novels, all rolled into one. Having finished the book and breathed a sigh of relief, I still had no real idea of Yates (or Mercer) as a person. In short he started off in the legal profession, wrote occasional fiction for Windsor Magazine before moving to France and taking up writing full time. That’s all I can really recall. Why did I keep on when normally I‘d throw in the towel? I felt I owed it to the late Lynette Hicks who was a collector of Yates’ books. This bio came from her collection and it had been sitting around since she passed away a number of years ago.

FROM KATOOMBA TO JENOLAN CAVES:THE SIX FOOT TRACK  by Jim Smith 1985 Megalong Book isbn 0909325421

Jim Smith’s book on the Six Foot Track provided a degree of welcome relief. It required more concentration than the above bio due to its historical content. Reading reports of travelers in the late 19th Century tramping though the bush on the once accessible bush track between Katoomba and Jenolan Caves may not be everyone’s idea of pleasure. For anyone who loves Australia’s Blue Mountains region, though, this should prove to be a highly entertaining read.

Imagine walking from Sydney to the South Coast via Katoomba and Jenolan Caves! That’s what travelers did, back in the day. Strangely though, it wasn’t usual to carry water. This probably seems difficult to believe nowadays. That’s one fact that really stuck out, together with the indomitability of those early travelers. This book should be mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in exploring the Blue Mountains.

HUMPHREY BOGART by Nathaniel Benchley 1975 Hutch isbn 0860074854

Finally we come to a small paperback that had been sitting around for decades. An appointment is Sydney meant that I needed an easy read. Normally I’d select an Bony book. I’ve read all but one, and that one is a hardback, waiting to be read, certainly, but too heavy to hold for 4 hours in the train. So from many hundreds within reach I selected the Bogy bio.

There are numerous biographies and books on Bogart. At around 150 pages this would probably be the shortest. “The best book about Bogie so far written” states the blurb from Screen International across the top of the cover. I would happily agree. The author was a friend of the Bogarts and had the full co-operation of Lauren Bacall. Without a doubt, this is the BEST bio I have read on any actor. It’s concise, low key and displays a real understanding of Bogie. The actor himself was a pretty normal bloke by the sound if it, especially for the time. This may be a short review. I suggest if you want to read just one movie biography, this is the one.

As a matter of interest, I almost finished the Bogie bio on my return train trip; all but the final chapter was devoured later on the day. It’s rare for me to pick up a book that shuts out the rest of the world so quickly and commands ones full attention. This did; enough said!

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