Thursday, 22 October 2009

Never a Normal Man by Daniel Farson

Daniel Farson has been dead over a decade now and was long off British Television screens by the time I was watching regularly, so it was by chance that I happened upon a reference to him online. After discovering that he used to drink (a lot) in Soho in the fifties, I decided to inquire further and got this weighty autobiography out of the library.

Written when he knew he was dying, it is incredibly frank and self deprecating, sometimes to the point of distraction, but never for too long; Never a Normal Man is a most entertaining read. It begins while he is travelling in Istanbul, wandering around looking for rough trade and getting soused on raki, the clouded silver poison which propels you into the vicious circle where you need another raki to start the day and continue to oblivion and obliteration.

Not long after his national service he started as a photographer for Picture Post. Finding himself in Soho one morning, he had his first encounter with portrait photographer and artist, John Deakin:

As I waited for the pubs to open, a new experience for me which was to be repeated for the rest of my life, I was sure that something wonderful might happen. Soho exuded optimism; it was a land of anticipation sometimes realized. A man in dark glasses tried the door of the York Minster... Following him inside as the pub opened, I watched as ordered his first drink, downed it, shivered, and sighed with heartfelt relief. “That’s better.” As the York Minster, better known as The French Pub, began to fill up, I was startled to hear friends asking each other if they need to apologize for their behaviour on the night before...

This is his introduction to a man of whom, when he arrives on a visit, Farson says:

The phrase ‘fell out of a train’ is used lightly, but Deakin did so literally.

Soho in this period was full of such characters and he made lifelong friendships with Deakin and the painter Francis Bacon. Farson became a household name from his documentary television programmes, before giving it up to run a pub, which of course, lost him a stack of money. He finished up broke and living in Devon, away from the fading lights of the West End.

I have always been a lousy drunk, wild, euphoric and abusive after that beautiful preamble, and the terrifying thing is that I have not improved in forty years. If anything it has got worse with age, he writes, describing how his career was compromised by several court appearances for being drunk and disorderly. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable autobiography by a remarkable man, now sadly vanishing from the pubic eye; the book appears to be out of print and my copy hadn’t been out of the library for a year.


  1. I was lucky to have worked with Dan and Never a Normal Man is superbly honest.When he died l bought most of his library that contained not only his books but those of his father Negley Farson.Many are signed and Dan's has hand written notes on various pages of proof and 1st editions NANM is rare and commands a high price.

  2. When he died l asked the legendry Jazz singer,author and broadcaster George Melly for a quote he said ''One learnt never to go out with Dan after nightfall''
    Richard Hope-Hawkins
    Bristol England

  3. Thank you for your comments. He sounds such a fascinating man; you were very luck to work with him. Sadly the first edition copy that I was reading belonged to the City of London library and was looking a little dog-eared by the time I got my hands on it. Great quote from George Melly, by the way. I think I shall try and look out for some of his writings with a mind for future posts...