Harper Collins , 352 pages , £9.99 , HB
Bitesize: Flashman author pins you in a corner and tells you what’s wrong
with the world!!
People, it has rightly been said, should be allowed to grow old disgracefully. But should we allow the poor blighters the right to publicly humiliate themselves? George MacDonald Fraser’s The Light’s on at Signpost could be a comedy classic in the mould of Alf Garnett, were it not for the “froth at the mouth” earnestness of it all. Perhaps the problem lies in the way the book is marketed; the cover depicts a typewriter with some celluloid emerging from it, aiming to appeal to the book’s “Memoirs of the movies, among other matters”. These are, after all, the memoirs of a screenwriter who worked with the greats for thirty years. His first film script was for the hugely enjoyable romp The Three Musketeers and its sequel. Later came the unpretentious thrills of Force Ten From Navarone and, er, Octopussy. However it’s not long before you realise that these memoirs are “rewards” for the (hugely) patient reader, doggy snacks if you will sit up and beg, thanking the master for his pearls of philosophical wisdom. Sadly, the bulk of the book is taken up with (generally) bigoted and sigh-inducing rants that totally dispel the little oases of polite script discussions with stars and directors and the joys of international film-shoots. It’s a pity as these infrequent chapters beg for elaboration, even if Mr Fraser qualifies their nature by suggesting we don’t want to read them anyway because he refuses to stoop to the kind of petty gossip mongering that blights modern writing. Apparently that is all we (especially critics – boo!) want to read about because we are such salacious ghouls. Oh dear, how misguided.
The real problems are not as a result of what Mr Fraser is saying (people are allowed their opinions after all, however ludicrous) but the way he says it. It’s an irritating cocktail of bombast, whinging and self-absorbed piety. There is also the tendency to fall onto that stalwart of the indefensible – faux self-debasement. Sarcasm may well be the lowest form of wit, but Mr Fraser’s over-vented spleen forgoes even sarcasm’s dubious merits. It also, unforgivably, means that Mr Fraser stereotypes his readers into an utterly disgraceful binary. Either you are his “best buddy” and the voice of common sense that allows only rhetoric and no debate, or you are a lily-livered commie Blairite and, most heinous of all, “politically correct”. What’s laughable about these outbursts are that they are so passé, so 80’s. In this binary world, everyone who thinks Mr Fraser’s opinions are mainly tosh is clearly a Blairite toady, a patently ludicrous and patronising position, certainly given this government’s attitude towards war, democracy, personal freedom and the will of the electorate. In Mr Fraser’s day they never had rape or racism, violence only occurred on the battlefield and all the commonwealth countries adored British colonial rule.
Indeed one gets the impression that there were enough roses used in the manufacture of Mr Fraser’s spectacles to keep Interflora going for a decade. The reasoning in his arguments boils down to the very Blairite practice of “I’ve said it so it must be right” – great for soundbites but hardly appropriate for objective debate, especially considering the woefully misguided sentiments he espouses. Fraser seems to want to goad the reader/critic (critic – boo hiss!) into precisely the same mode of bullish rhetoric, especially as his introduction has made it perfectly clear that he hates you, before you’ve had a chance to read further. It’s like the man in the pub who singles you out, pushes you in the back and then insists you’ve spilt his pint purely for the purpose of a punch up.
The Light’s on at Signpost is like reading 300 pages of the Daily Mail letters page. Only worse. It’s as though the only thing the editors have cut out is a “why oh why oh why” prelude that seems to precede two out of three chapters. If you want to waste nine quid being barked at by a geriatric then don’t say you weren’t warned.
Any Cop?: The Light’s on at Signpost but no-one’s home.