There’s a trick to writing like a raconteur, and there’s a trick to reading the raconteur’s creations. Let’s consider the second aspect first. I’ve read John Nettles’ memoirs twice: once, in a haze of cheese over twixmas; more recently on return from Jersey and wanting to hear tales from the Bergerac set. Oddly, second time around it shared reading time with Gil Amelio’s memoirs from his stint running Apple in the 1990s. Amelio has a clear agenda and some scores to settle but I kind of feel we’re getting somewhere. Compared to this, Nettles has given us a whole load of soup: prolix and verbose and we don’t learn anything.
Which is precisely the wrong way of looking at this. Gil Amelio is not our friend, and John Nettles is not our friend, though at times we may have thought of Jim Bergerac as one of the family. But nobody is interested in whether Gil Amelio ever had an affair with Liza Goddard; enough people were supposedly interested in whether Nettles had for newspapers to pay damages for having run reports on the subject. From both men we want the inside story, but Nettles is wise enough to know (and the market for his book content with the idea that) that there is not a huge story to tell. A lot of television-making, we understand, involves retakes and sitting about. Far better for Nettles to concentrate on the preposterous nature of life as a mini-celebrity and to send up himself and his craft.
So we get several anecdotes about life pre-Bergerac, in which our hero has mishaps in the theatre. Things go wrong. Then he gets the TV gig for which he became particularly famous. Things go wrong. There’s a long story about a night in, before an awards ceremony, in which things go wrong. And there’s a story about a fellow actor who is fond of a long lunch, after which things go wrong. There are no lasting consequences. Nudity in a public place has no lasting consequences either, it’s light entertainment, perfectly pitched, but you need to know what you’re getting.
The problem is not a problem. The thing is that you want is for Nettles to read you this stuff. He’s got the voice for it, and it’s written in a style that cries out to be read. It was written, I think, before audiobooks became a thing. But there are enough films on the internet in which John Nettles gently reminisces about his time in Bergerac and in Midsomer Murders for us to see how it really should be delivered. Come to the book in that attitude, though, and you’ll have hours of the effective, mainstream light entertainment for which John Nettles is rightly famous.