Listening Corner

Betty Tadman

One by one, the stars of stage and screen fall for the lure of talking books. Miriam Margolyes claims to enjoy the work more than anything else she does. David Suchet can't think of anything nicer than interpreting a book he loves. Juliet Stevenson likes the chance of a close encounter with a book she has not yet read.

And writers themselves often make excellent readers. John Le Carre reads his own stories magnificently, Simon Brett renders his crime novels with relish. Now Sir Alec Guinness has joined the fray, reading his autobiography, Blessings in Disguise (Penguin, Pounds 7.99).

Sir Alec tells how, hungry and short of cash, he braved John Gielgud in his den. The lion was generous and encouraging, and Martita Hunt gave the young man acting lessons. Sir Alec finally made it as Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations, whereafter the rest is history.

But his private history is more intriguing, turning as it does on his illegitimacy and a 50-year search for his real father. In this tale, he seems to have solved that mystery. He also recounts his conversion to Catholicism, which, together with his long and happy marriage, has given him unalloyed joy.

In My Name Escapes Me (Penguin, Pounds 7.99), Sir Alec moves on to old age and its infirmities, yet this lovable octogenarian still enjoys life to the full, regularly coming to London to visit the theatre, and dine with the likes of Alan Bennett, Lauren Bacall and Barry Humphries. He reads these wise and witty books with tranquil authority.

After going through the card at Ascot last month, Frankie Dettori has been confirmed as the greatest talent the turf has seen since Lester Piggott in his prime, and he has begun to branch out. He recently fronted Top of the Pops and appeared on Clive Anderson's TV show, and he now recounts his life story in audio-book form.

A Year in the Life of Frankie Dettori (Reed, Pounds 7.99) starts with his Italian origins, his loved and loving family, and his blend of guts and determination. It reveals him to be a delightful character.

From Penguin come two horse-racing novels by ex-jockey Dick Francis, who continues to mine his former employment for inspiration. For Kicks - expertly read by William Gaminara - exposes a doping scam. Bonecrack - read by Martin Jarvis with his customary skill - involves fatal injuries to horses plus a moving human story (Pounds 8.99 each).

Meanwhile, after their superb Alice in Wonderland, Susan Jameson and James Saxon revisit Lewis Carroll's surreal landscape with an equally enchanting Through the Looking Glass (Penguin, Pounds 6.99). And, finally, Simon Russell Beale reads Hesketh Pearson's The Life of Oscar Wilde (Naxos, Pounds 7. 99 cassette; Pounds 9.99 CD) with an inspired appreciation of his subject's wit and elegance. Pearson's classic account - chronicling the dizzy rise, the fall from grace and martyrdom - is still the best available.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

coronavirus live

Coronavirus and schools: LIVE 10/8

A one-stop shop for teachers who want to know what impact the outbreak of the virus will have on their working lives
Tes Reporter 10 Aug 2020