Sunday, 9 May 2010

Hubert Gregg's autobiography


Mention of Hubert Gregg in the previous post reminds me that I have now read and thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography. It is available exclusively from the official Hubert Gregg website here.

Just to be clear, there is a separate book, entitled Thanks for the Memory (and also well worth reading), mentioned in an earlier entry, which consists of Gregg's salutes to his musical idols, and can be found fairly easily secondhand online. His autobiography is entitled Maybe It's Because ...? and has a wealth of anecdotes about his life in the theatre in addition to his own musical adventures. 

Both books call to mind the distinctive broadcasting style feted earlier (indeed, Thanks for the Memory arose out of two radio series) but the autobiography also has an occasional acerbic note which might not have passed muster at the Beeb (I won't spoil the surprise; let's just say you will never listen to Jack Hylton's records in quite the same way again). It also conjures several vanished theatre worlds - and by sheer coincidence, a colleague had been discussing Robert Atkins with me a few days ago after I had read it.

There are various setbacks and near-misses which seem to have dotted Hubert's life but - if it doesn't sound too Lear-like to put it this way - they are offset by his actual successes and the simple fact that he endured for so long. The radio shows may have been a relatively small part of his overall output but I think he is right when he says in the book that no one who subsequently climbed on the nostalgia bandwagon could do the particular job which he did, which I think comes down to the sense he always communicated of a direct involvement in the music and the implied courtesy, as I said in the original blog piece, here, of the carefully scripted links.

I'm a fan of AA Milne's grown-up writing and the style both of Hubert Gregg's autobiography and of his radio links seems similar: there is a sense of compression, of musicality almost, which suggests the hard work was done in the writing so that the act of reading is remarkably easy and moreish. (When someone told Milne that a piece of his in Punch seemed "funny without trying" he admitted: "That's what it tried to be.") I will forever be in Hubert Gregg's debt because he took seriously what could have been a throwaway programme and introduced me to much of the music which I still listen to and love - and indeed much of what I buy in the course of my job reflects my memory of those programmes.

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