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Michelle's corner

Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)

Review - Do You Mind If I Smoke

Do You Mind If I Smoke - Simon McKay, Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding. A principled, wholesome person in both life and book. (which was released first as an audio book, if you prefer that format) If you're looking for the dirt, it is there but it isn't put on a paper plate, fluffed up and delivered to your face a'la Tizwas. For example she recalled about working with Norman Wisdom...

"Not a very pleasant man. Always making a pass - hand up your skirt first thing in the morning. Not exactly a lovely way to start a day's filming. Taking it for granted anyone was game. It wasn't confined to just me, of course. I remember Dilys Laye saying exactly the same thing. His attitude was: Female; fair game. No thought for, is he alluring? Are you interested? No matter. It was just, ooo-er! Female; go. Not very nice. And not the most attractive man in the world.

Other accounts, of which there are few, are dealt with in a similar manner. Well, that is except for the chapter on Kenneth Williams, of course. You are more than half way into the book before she even mentions the films from which she titled the book, "(I'll tell you about the Carry On's later on.)"

I can't imagine how it must be to have to sell yourself into roles and work contacts for auditions and parts on such a regular basis. McKay decided to write the book in subject order rather than strict chronological and I personally think that this was the wrong decision with Fielding's story, as I didn't feel like I got enough of an image of any single period of time.

However, when you've got skill and experience, it probably makes the volatile career as an actor or actress all the more enduring. There were points in her career where she was, "broke," as in extremely low on funds and at one point she  recounted the experience of claiming benefits. But Fielding certainly had both skill and experience. Knowing when to add a word here, or cut a word there, or how delivery could change things. As she said, "Later, I noticed that a bit in the sketches I did with Morecambe and Wise... it was the rhythm of them." The goal seems to be to do enough in the popular works, so that the residuals all add up by the time you retire.

She shares pearls of wisdom, including "Well, everybody can make some stupid decisions and perhaps that was one of mine, but it doesn't mean my life is a tragedy because of it," and, "You do pick things up if people are kind enough to tell you when you need it. They'll say, 'If you did it like such and such, that would make the point,' and if you listen it can make a real difference."

I even learned a new word, "hobbledehoy."

The book finishes with the last twenty -ish pages being her appointment diary from 1958 to 1968. Things like...

19th March - Costume fitting at Berman's
20th March - Rehearse at Dinley's for police concert
24th March - Voiceover Cool Tan

In conclusion, I would rather have had an extended piece about each period; the personalities of a particular time, the places she lived and what was going on. Without this, the book does get a bit ethereal, which I think is a shame. It lacks the up and down of a drama read; but that wasn't what Fielding was about.


As many in the acting world, she did far more than she was popularly remembered for and I get the impression of someone I'd have loved to have had coffee with. McKay definitely did us a favour when he upped the ante to ice cream.