Now and Then (by Roy Castle)

I had a lot of respect for Roy Castle, who was probably best known as the presenter of the TV show 'Record Breakers' in the 1980s. He was always cheerful, and was known - in a low-key sort of way - as a Christian, and also very much a family man. When he died after a battle with cancer in 1994, his wife Fiona took on some of his charity work, and founded organisations to try and combat smoking.

So, when I saw a copy of his autobiography on a second-hand stall, I bought it immediately. I always wanted to know more about this fascinating man.

It starts well, with descriptions of Roy Castle's impoverished working-class roots, albeit in a very happy family environment. His mother encouraged him in his early appearances on stage, and his other relatives were clearly very fond of him, and proud of him when he succeeded. In a deprecating kind of way, he charts his disappointments as well as his successes.

Unfortunately, once Roy got to the stage of being fairly well-known, the book goes downhill. It leaps about from place to place, detailing in passing a number of practical jokes, supposedly amusing conversations, and the various events he attended and people he worked with. These things are probably of interest to those who were there at the time, but left me rather bored, skimming rapidly through lists of names, and wondering what was so funny about the many incidents he cites.

Interspersed with this, I was pleased to see at least a brief mention of his courtship of and marriage to Fiona, and something about their children, although less than I would have liked. But then I'm always much more interested in people's family life than their public personas.

The last part of the book is different again. It's written in diary form, after the first diagnosis of lung cancer, with treatment that worked. He is able to work for another year, feeling mostly very well, but this is followed by a recurrence of the disease that led to his demise, shortly after the book was completed.

The Christian side of the book was low-key, without any preaching or theology (a definite plus). We read of people who prayed for Roy, and there is mention of his church family, and his baptism, and his strong faith that helped him bear whatever came his way. But I don't think there's anything in it that would offend those who are not believers.

I very much enjoyed the parts of this book that described Roy's family, and found the latter section quite moving. Once or twice I even had tears in my eyes. So overall I'd say this was certainly worth reading, and very interesting in places; just a pity the middle section was not cut down significantly.

No longer in print, but may be available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th January 2009

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