What Fresh Lunacy Is This?
The Authorized Biography of
By Robert Sellers
Constable and Robinson – £20.00
‘I do not live in the world of sobriety.’
Like many a volatile writer, actor, musician and all round pain in the arse, the late, great, man’s man of an actor, Oliver Reed, clearly had a rather brazen and well publicised, tempestuous problem with alcohol. Yet, what I particularly like about this authorized biography, is that it doesn’t squirm at the mere thought of offence.
In fact it might be said that What Fresh Lunacy Is This? – The Authorized Biography of Oliver Reed sets something of preordained, literary precedence; especially when it comes to shooting from the ever so informed hip and the regal, loyal heart.
I primarily say informed, because film journalist and author, Robert Sellers (whose previous books include Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed, Very Naughty Boys and Battle for Bond), certainly knows both his stuff and his subject.
A subject to which, it has to be said, he has remained utterly loyal throughout.
If nothing else, these 477 pages (not including the Filmography) are a testament to this; a testament by way of not shying away from the aforementioned vexed undercurrent of alcoholism.
A facet of Reed’s life, that some, if not many, might concur blighted Reed’s personal life, as well as that of his professional life.
This is underlined in the chapter ‘Maximum Excess,’ where Sellers writes: ‘’According to Michael Winner, ‘There was no greater pendulum swing in any human being that I’ve ever met than Oliver Reed sober to Oliver Reed drunk.’ The transformation when it happened was extraordinary. It was truly like Jekyll turning into Hyde. What triggered it? It was like a Plimsoll line, that one drink, that one vodka and tonic too much and then there was this monster. ‘Ollie wasn’t an alcoholic,’ believes Murray Melvin. But there was a need, because without it he was lovely. But that one drink and he had to hit somebody. He just had to hit somebody. He really was Jekyll and Hyde. You could almost see the change in him – ohh, that’s the one – and you knew to get out or, like a typhoon, you put the shutters down and hoped it blew over and your house was still standing at the end of it.‘’
I do believe I mentioned the words ‘’pain in the arse’’ at the outset of this review. As let’s face it, we all know someone who subscribes to this sort of behaviour. When a one-off now and again – which I’m sure we’re all capable of – it’s tolerable. Although when it’s a regular occurrence as in the way quoted above, surely it goes beyond the realm of acceptability?
Along with a revealing school report circa 1949, a letter home from boarding school and some excellent black and white as well as colour photographs, What Fresh Lunacy Is This?, endeavours to decipher whether or not Reed was a hellraiser or a national treasure; a victim of his own image (which, if true, he wasn’t alone) or cultural icon.
No doubt, everyone will have their own opinion on Oliver Reed, just as they probably still do with regards the likes of Keith Richards and George Michael. The latter of whom, is a perfect example of being a simultaneous hellraiser and victim of his own image.
That said, this extremely well researched and well-written book might go some way in answering a few (curious) questions, but more importantly, it sheds considerable new light on a truly gifted, yet troubled soul.