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BOOK
Paul Darrow
You're Him, Aren't You? - An Autobiography

Author: Paul Darrow
Big Finish
RRP: 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 236 6
Available 03 April 2006


Paul Darrow's career has encompassed theatre, television and film. Famed for his portrayal of Kerr Avon, a ruthless and calculating computer expert, in Terry Nation's science fiction series
Blake's 7, Darrow has also appeared in Coronation Street, Emergency Ward 10 and many other productions - including two guest appearances in Doctor Who. Populated by familiar names and productions, You're Him, Aren't You? is Paul's own story of his life and career. It tells of his association with Blake's 7 - how he was cast, his experiences of making the show, what has happened since and his memories of Terry Nation, the cast and the crew. It also tells of his childhood, his time playing Elvis Presley and his near miss with James Bond...

Paul Darrow is a peculiar and enigmatic chap. Most famous for taking a supporting character in a cheap British sci-fi show and transforming the role into one of the most compelling leading characters in science fiction. Darrow has also played Elvis Presley and Macbeth on stage to critical acclaim, hammed up one of the most appalling performances ever to be seen in Doctor Who, written a truly dreadful Blake's 7 novel and has most recently been seen on our screens advertising, erm, stairlifts.

This slim volume from Big Finish is Darrow's story in his own words, from his schooldays to his RADA training, from the theatre to his glorious defining moment on the small screen and then back to the theatre again. Sadly, no mention of the stairlifts though.

For those of you who were hoping for a candid warts-and-all account of his career then you're going to be disappointed. By Darrow's own admission, this isn't that sort of book (although, rather unhelpfully, he only points this out right at the end of the book!) And so it is that the majority of people he has worked with are continually described as being thoroughly decent professionals, and much seems to be glossed over.

Darrow writes in short, clipped sentences throughout the autobiography, and whilst making for an instantly accessible read, it does become repetitive after a while, as the same short phrases are recycled endlessly throughout the book ("Don't ask me" and "Your guess is as good as mine" being not especially enlightening favourites of his).

And yet, there is something very honest and very likeable within these pages. Darrow clearly dreamed of being Laurence Olivier, and had a burning ambition to be a huge movie star. He never came close to achieving this but is humble enough to admit so, optimistic enough that it could still happen, and refreshingly grateful for the immortality he so magnificently achieved playing Avon in Blake's 7. A large chunk of this book is, of course, devoted to that classic sci-fi show. Darrow's personal anecdotes on the series are plentiful and will be lapped up by Blake's 7 fans, as he takes us on an episode-by-episode guide to the series. The many brief anecdotes are more than welcome, less so the half-hearted and completely redundant 'synopsis' of each episode which take up far too much space in an already slim volume. Blake's 7 fans will obviously have little interest in these vague summings-up of each and every one of the 52 episodes, whilst non-fans will be left bewildered by Darrow's brief outlines of plots which even he doesn't always seem to understand himself.

There is still plenty to savour in Darrow's account of his Blake's 7 years - he clearly doesn't have much regard for Blake's character (surprised?) but his deep admiration and friendship with creator Terry Nation shines through, and the chapter detailing the abortive attempt to resurrect the series is a major highlight of the book, and the closest Darrow comes to in venting genuine frustration against others.

Darrow often comes across as being a bit of an Alan Partridge figure. He describes former girlfriends as being 'a bit of terrific'; is over-keen to detail situations when he apparently brought the house down; he spends whole chapters listing famous acquaintances and claims to fame (he shared jokes with Dave Allen - he tells you this twice just to make sure you were listening); and you end up waiting for the inevitable stream of anecdotes that climax with "Needless to say, I had the last laugh." (He doesn't quite get there but comes very, very close).

Overall, the main disappointment with the book is that it's not a particularly cohesive autobiography. Brief anecdotes are wheeled out thick and fast, and thrown together seemingly at random to make up some of the chapters. A little more structure, and a more fluent writing style may have helped give us a better insight into the enigmatic man - but maybe that was never the plan. This is Paul Darrow, after all.

Despite the fundamental flaws though, you may well enjoy dipping into some of these memoirs. Outside of Blake's 7, there is a chapter detailing his appearances in Doctor Who (in which he hints that he deliberately hammed up his 1985 appearance alongside then Doctor Colin Baker, in return for Baker hamming up his role in a previous episode of Blake's 7) and surprisingly enjoyable chapters on his theatre work - I didn't expect to have much interest in this, but Darrow's enthusiasm for the stage is quite heart-warming, and he clearly regards his performance as Elvis in Alan Bleasdale's Are You Lonesome Tonight? as one of the proudest moments of not just his career but his whole life.

You're Him, Aren't You? is nowhere near the candid definitive autobiography you may have dared hope for but it's enjoyable in random patches and is recommended with caution to Blake's 7 fans. But rather like the Blake's 7 budget, just don't expect too much.

Danny Salter

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