Book review: Absolute Pandemonium: My Louder Than Life Story byÂ Brian Blessed
Yes, there’s no one quite like Blessed… actor, film star, trained undertaker, secret romantic, martial artist and conqueror of Mount Kilimanjaro, a man mountain of many parts and a veritable avalanche of hilarious anecdotes.
‘I want to leap out of the page at you,’ says his big-voiced introduction and that’s exactly what the celebrity megaphone does in this outrageously funny, and sometimes unexpectedly moving, memoir.
Absolute Pandemonium delivers exactly what one might expect from this Yorkshire-born, larger-than-life personality… a glorious jumble of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and anarchic antics as he zigzags haphazardly through his personal history from childhood in a mining area of South Yorkshire and finding fame in Z-Cars to shenanigans on the sets of Flash Gordon and Star Wars.
His story explodes into life like a box of firecrackers and the fallout, including punching playwright Harold Pinter down a flight of stairs and revelations about his volatile friendship with Peter O’Toole, ensures that the language is blue, the exploits are colourful and his army of adoring fans will be tickled a darker shade of pink.
Blessed’s start in life was typically inauspicious… for the first week of his life he was known as the Toad on account of the fact that the forceps-delivered, extra-large baby was ‘incredibly ugly.’ Fortunately, his appearance improved greatly and the son of a coal miner from Goldthorpe had a happy childhood and loving parents.His father was his hero, a tough coal hewer who worked deep in the bowels of the earth, removing about seven tonnes of coal a day by himself, ‘the equivalent of about five African bull elephants.’
The young Brian’s acting debut was at school, an Abbott and Costello skit that captivated both his teachers and classmates and led to membership of a local drama group. Acting was in the boy’s blood and his big break came with a place at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where his contemporaries included Peter O’Toole.
O’Toole appears to have spent much of his time drinking , hell raising and vomiting but, of course, there was more to the man than his notorious reputation for women and booze. Blessed says the two of them were polar opposites but went on to have a unique friendship despite Blessed always hating O’Toole for wasting his great talent on alcohol.
In contrast, Blessed opted for a long courtship with his wife, the beautiful South African actress Hildegard Neil, whom he met on the set of an episode of ITV Playhouse in 1968 and married in 1976. They are still blissfully happy four decades later.
On stage, on film and in public, Blessed has seen and done it all. He fell for legendary actress Katharine Hepburn on the set of The Trojan Women, suffered the indignity of wires strapped around his nether regions as he was hoisted into the heavens on Flash Gordon, had to win round George Lucas to get the role of Boss Nass on Star Wars Episode I: ThePhantom Menace and almost caused an international incident when meeting the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
Blessed proves to be a brilliant storyteller, his personal experiences and acting career constantly viewed through the rosy prism of his ‘huge, great bearded smiley’ optimism which has always impelled him to grab life ‘by the scruff of the neck and shake the b*gger until you’re there.’
Very much a product of his Yorkshire working class roots, Blessed writes with his natural-born warmth, wit and sound common sense as he provides fascinating insights into some of the craziest exploits and sweetly tender moments of his amazing life.
But above all Absolute Pandemonium is first class entertainment… a big, boisterous adventure with a big, exuberant man so full of infectious enthusiasm and joyful mischief that it is hard to believe he will reach the grand old age of 80 this year.The message is loud and clear… you’d be mad to miss the fun!
(Pan, paperback, £8.99)