Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Charity Shop Book Review II

Yes, by popular request* here it is... The Charity Shop Book Review II – The Revenge.
In the spirit of the season, I'll do you two for the price of one... can't say fairer than that Guv'nor...

So, Nosher; the title of today's tome, the Nosher being one Frederick Bernard Powell. Born in Camberwell between the Wars, 'Nosher' got his name partly from his Dad, but mainly because of his famous appetite. The book itself – perhaps mistakenly – is marketed as one of those 'Hard-Nut-London-Street-Fighter' memoirs, rather than what seems to me the memoirs of an extraordinary life.

Let me qualify that; yes, the fists certainly fly on these pages, but its the circumstances; throwing Oliver Reed out of a party, 'Minding' (English slang for Bodyguarding and generally 'looking after' the client or V.I.P.) Sammy Davis Jnr and Paul Getty, then there's the Movies – Nosher Powell was a film extra and later Stuntman. And you've never heard of him. You might have seen him, if you've ever watched (And this is a tiny percentage of the list) Ben Hur, The Longest Day, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Superman – every Bond film from From Russia with Love to...point made yet? )
My main problem (Apart from the head I've got from a night out) is this; reviewing books is, frankly the errand of a fool – we all read the same print, but the images and feelings the words invoke are, essentially, internal. Put simply, one man's meat. I like this book – I'm reading it for the second time, and that puts it in a small club. It's not Tolstoy (I couldn't spell Dozhtoyesvksy.) (Still can't – but as, Enid Blyton was the first name to mind, you're lucky to get Tolstoy.) or Oscar Wilde, but frank in-yer-face honesty - told in appropriate parlance from the man who has literally seen the lot and shares the anecdotes with us.

Example; Sammy Davis Jnr was increasingly riled that his Minder seemed to know – and be known by – people everywhere. This came to a head when the Billionaire Paul Getty walked past the Davis Jnr entourage – 'Good Evening Nosher' 'Good Evening, Paul'. The entertainer was left incredulous, but this is from a man who, when on National Service was locked in a ship's brig, only to find the jailer was an old mate from his Covent garden days. One of those people you find who know people everywhere, the kind that if set adrift on a raft in the ocean would sail into port two days later on a friend's yacht.
The whole thing is delivered with refreshing candour, with just enough dirt dished to avoid lawsuits or wooden overcoats – the latter a distinct possibility given the alarming nature of some of the faces in the book. Highly reccomended! - as you can see, skinflint here paid a measly three quid, but seek this one out from Blake publishing (ISBN 1-85782-371-0)
For more on the Powell family and their incredible contribution to the 007 Films, visit

*Well, its early days.

The Man Who Saved Britain – A Personal journey into the disturbing World of James Bond.
I'll resist the usual temptations to sink into cheap cliché' (the kind of cliché that sticks to your skin like $5 perfume on a hot Chicago ni...Sorry.) So don your shoulder holsters and white tux and meet Winder. Simon Winder.
Well... anyway, this is one that prompts mixed feelings. Any Bond fans are advised (As in the book) to look elsewhere, as this is no fact-filled gadget and babe compendium – rather a sideways look at the self-image of Great Britain after the war. The whole theme of 'Britishness' and its importance to a nation recovering from a second helping of agony is the spine of the book. 'Our' Empire was just an echo, a faded mirage – the reality; a bankrupt island facing ruinous unemployment as the World started buying cars from the nations we had fought so hard to defeat was, for many simply unbearable. Fear and mistrust over immigration from former dependencies added fuel to a brush fire of resentment from the newly-independent colonies.

So, Bond – now, me buy book with snazzy cover me learny lesson; I was in a hurry, it said James Bond and those rascals at Picador put some Bond-Babe silhouettes on the cover. Lucky. Its a fascinating read; even though it is more about how Bond is a cipher, the man we want to see in the mirror: a kind of plaster for national soreness than the books or films themselves. The reality intrudes in jarring hilarity; Winder is an Oxford old-boy (It shows; he knows all the words) and one of his teachers was reputedly an MI6 recruiter; whilst Winder was never asked (Could you ever...kill a man: if it was your duty, I mean?) the only known spy recruited was a boy who had been photographed in Nazi uniform; not the cleverest bit of head-hunting. Since Winder's book (Which came out before Craig's Casino Royale) (In my opinion the best Bond since Connery) pre-dates the recent scandal involving a spy padlocked in a bag – possibly a bondage game gone wrong, it confirms he hit the button; MI6 aren't famous for their successes.

The problem MI6 (Actually the Secret Intelligence Service) will have is obvious; they win quite a few, but they'd have to kill you (They don't. Apparently.). Shouting 'We got your top Nuclear scientist working for us' to the Iranians would simply have them top him before changing the locks and hiring another one; it wouldn't work. So, we get to hear about the failures; much like the SAS (whose famous mission Bravo-Two-Zero went awry in lots of ways; you simply never hear about the secret stuff that goes well ). Also, in the films the image is of guns and glamour, the suave spy in the casino playing Mr.Funnyname for millions and a night with his missus; unlike the civil-service reality so carefully hidden behind all that green glass by the Thames. Stella Rimington (ex-Chief of MI5*) nails the lid on the lie with her fantastically revealing quote on the back cover; 'Poor Bond is little more than a prop to Winder's obsession with the evils of Empire... and his desire to denigrate Britain's intelligence services'. The real 'M' is an office manager.

Mind you, she has a point; Winder doesn't exactly hide his lefty-liberal leanings, he clearly despises the Britain of Empire – yes, it doesn't stand up to any amount of scrutiny, yes, it was a racist resources grab by a rapacious nation that caused plenty of bloodshed (even when we pulled out, leaving rival factions to slash it out for the top seats), but he overdoes it for me – it will seem like sneering to many readers.

To sum it up, its an odd one; I'm the biggest James Bond fan around, here's a man who hates everything post-Goldfinger rubbishing a lot of my favourite films... and I enjoyed reading his book. Witty, entertainment that requires a fair bit of intelligence to absorb and understand, plus it might be hard to get the feel of it if you weren't born here. Winder is just young enough to be from my generation (Me 1967, He 1963) so a lot of the references circa-1970's are memory-lane gold for me. I'd recommend this to anyone that wants a wider take on the whole British thing...
( ISBN 978-0-330-44246-6)

*MI5 – The Security Service; responsible for Internal security issues, largely anti-terror work and protecting national interests and industrial secrets; if a terrorist wants to play the fizzy-rucksack game abroad, it's the Secret Intelligence Service (Bond's employers if he were real), but in the UK it's the Security Service. The 'MI' refers to the time when both were nominally under the umbrella of Military Intelligence – it changed years ago, but MI5/6 sounds sexier to the media.

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