Monday, 15 February 2010

Who on Earth is Tom Baker by Tom Baker

Gloriously written, Baker’s autobiography doesn’t just cover his acting career, most famously as The Doctor, but his upbringing in Liverpool, his time as a novice monk and the incident when he tried to kill his mother-in-law by throwing a hoe at her...

The title comes from a hellish taxi ride, when the cabbie mistook him for Jon Pertwee and went on at length to slag off Tom Baker:

“What a piss artist he was, do you know he was always drunk, used to throw up all over the place. What happened to him then, Mr. Pertwee, I never see him on the box these days?”

Trying to elicit a scrap of sympathy, Baker tells the driver that the man whose reputation he is traducing has in fact passed on to his eternal reward:

“Didn’t you hear?” I said, perched only on my coccyx as I leaned forward to catch a crumb of kindness. “Didn’t you hear, he died in a basement flat in Clapham, not a pot to piss in.” And I added, to guarantee some humane response: “He’s buried over that way at Saint Michael and All the Holy Angels, Elm Road.” This invention of a parish and a road I thought was a stroke of eloquence. No Answer. And then from Charon, “What a tosspot.” Distraught for a kind obituary from him, I added, from God knows what wastepaper basket of my mind, “If you go to the grave, you can actually smell the fumes of Carlsberg Special.” And in despair, I gilded it with, “Sometimes, you can see some skint old alkie lying on the grave having a sniff.”

Baker also covers the years that he spent hanging around with the Soho Crowd. Francis Bacon, Dan Farson et al get mentions, as does Jeff Barnard, who really was ‘unwell’, from time to time:

Once when I went to see him in the Middlesex Hospital, I was shocked and frightened to see how weak he looked. He was suffering from an attack of pancreatitis, I think. It must have been an agonizing ailment to have reduced Jeff so quickly. There was a youngish doctor there who wondered if perhaps Jeff could knock off the vodka. Bravely, Jeff shook his head and the doctor sighed in admiration. “Perhaps you could cut down on it, Jeff?” he suggested. But Jeff was not to be dissuaded, “I’ve been with Sally Smirnoff too long to leave her now.”

His chapter on his antics in Soho does beg the question: why all the time in bars, clubs and pubs?

And we went on laughing and doing anything to avoid going home to those who loved us. It is a common anxiety among drinkers that they find it hard to go home. We don’t like to leave each other.

And in sad old way, he’s right...

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