Sunday, December 5, 2010

Things Ain't What They Used to Be by Philip Glenister

Why I read it: Watched the full run of Life on Mars on DVD, and just wanted more from the characters.

Summary: British actor Philip Glenister, known most prominently for the role of Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt from the television series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, reminisces about life in Great Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.

My Thoughts: Comedian Stephen Wright once quipped that he liked to reminisce with people he doesn't know. " takes longer."

And so it goes with this book, if you're an American. It's like comedian Steve Martin said about the French; it's as if they have a different word for everything. Our 1970s here in the United States were very unlike the 1970s in England. We have few shared cultural memories. C'est la vie et vive la difference.

But if you do know anything about British culture, you'll find a lot of humor in this book. The process of coming of age anywhere has its similarities. The world seen through the eyes of seven-year-olds is full of candy, schoolwork, television, holidays, sports heroes, blockbuster movies and toys. Our football is their soccer; our Snickers is their Curly Wurly.

There has to be something of Gene Hunt in Philip Glenister, but I hope it's a small, controllable amount. Hunt's voice comes through the text, as the author asks and answers questions like which Bond was the best, Roger Moore or Daniel Craig? (and for that matter, who was the best Bond girl?) Were our toys better in the 1970s? Was television bettter? Was the world a better place before the Sex Pistols swore on live TV? Could the citizens of the world use a little suspense in their lives, like when the Brits waited for months for Star Wars to cross the Atlantic, or is the instant society we live in now the way it should be? And isn't most of what we know, say, do and enjoy simply a repackaging of what we had in the 1970s?

Finally, back to comedians. If you need a comparison, Glenister has a little bit of Denis Leary in him, a real no-nonsense, tough-guy, man's man aura, but he holds back just where he should. His humor can be caustic, but he stops before crossing the line to gratuitous language and scatalogical humor. Anyone in the public eye can throw together a memoir and let it ride on the fame of the author, but it takes a true thinker to put the pieces together like Glenister does, making us think on our own.

For those who watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes (not on DVD in the US yet, sadly), you'll have fun learning how parts of Gene Hunt's persona was formed from the childhood memories of Glenister, and, like me, can then wonder where Glenister ends and Hunt begins.

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