Book review: A Class Act, by Rob Beckett

Book review: A Class Act, Life as a Working-Class Man in a Middle-Class World, by Rob Beckett. Published by: Harper Collins. Available: now.

Now in his mid-thirties, Rob Beckett is a comedy success story, a popular stand-up, podcaster and a familiar TV face from shows like Mock The Week, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Taskmaster. He is also something of a rarity on the British comedy circuit in that he hails from a genuinely working-class background. This is his story, not a straightforward autobiography but a look at how his life and career have been affected by his past.

Judging by his own (and, indeed, probably many people’s) criteria, Beckett passes what he himself calls, ‘the Working-Class Test’ (perhaps this should be renamed, ‘The Beckett List?) with flying colours. He grew up in south-east London. His father worked as a driver: first driving vans, then petrol tankers, then a London taxi cab, His mum is known as ‘Big Suze’. He spent his 16th birthday at Crayford dog-racing track. He didn’t eat an avocado until he was 31. On the other hand, there is a darker side to all this. At his first ever Parents’ Evening at school, his parents were told straight that “he’s never going to be a high achiever or a high flier.”

Despite this, these experiences have left him not so much angry as conflicted. The book’s cover which shows him smartly dressed and cheerfully enjoying an expensive drink while simultaneously clearly about to tuck into a plate of bangers and mash while seated in a greasy spoon cafĂ©, comically reflect his mixed feelings. His background has clearly caused him no small measure of awkwardness in the past. After an early comedy success winning a trip to Adelaide after securing the Best Newcomer award at Edinburgh ten years ago, Beckett found himself stuck there with no money left to enjoy the city at all. Later, after being invited to a swanky party hosted by Jimmy Carr he found himself mocked by other guests for arriving with a few cans of beers in a plastic bag. Although he gets on well with his warm and supportive family, he admits to having been occasionally been embarrassed by their behaviour. It’s true, one or two of his issues can be attributed to other things: he recognises he was self-conscious about his weight for many years. A few elements of his parents’ behaviour sound like they might be more to do with general eccentricity or old age than anything else. But he is right to recognise that most of these problems have been down to class.

Today, Rob Beckett recognises he is definitely middle-class himself. His wife is middle-class: for one thing, she had never eaten fried chicken before meeting him. He also recognises his daughters will grow up to be much posher than he is. Occasionally his insecurities return. Most dramatically, it took a near nervous breakdown shortly before lockdown to make him realise his continued success did not depend on him taking literally every job he was offered. Even as a successful comedian who had been commissioned to write this book, he admits it took him a while to realise he wasn’t being needlessly financially reckless to even consider buying himself a new laptop rather than awkwardly sharing the computer his wife was using to home school the children during lockdown.

He frequently seems amazed he is writing a book at all. And no wonder. His father didn’t even read a book until he was 43. The book in question was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, in fact, written by Sue Townsend, a woman from a far poorer background than the Becketts.

Like her, Rob Beckett has come a very long way from where he started out from. But then, perhaps not so far, at the same time.

Farewell: some big names who died in 2014

Another year has passed and inevitably the last twelve months have seen us saying goodbye to many famous names for the final time.
But who were the main big names to leave us forever in 2014? Here is just a sample of some of the famous people who died in 2014…
Roger Lloyd-Pack (69)
(January 15th) Most people know him better as Trigger, Del Boy’s slow witted pal who inexplicably always referred to Rodney as Dave.
In addition to Only Fools and Horses, Lloyd-Pack was the father of the actress Emily Lloyd and was a regular in The Vicar Of Dibley.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman (46)
(February 2nd) Undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s greatest ever character actors, Hoffman appeared in everything from The Big Lebowski to an Oscar winning turn in Capote while enjoying high profile roles in Mission Impossible 3 and the later Hunger Games films.

2010 Sundance Film Festival - "Jack Goes Boating" Portraits

Shirley Temple-Black (85)
(February 10) As a child performer Shirley Temple was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s.
In adult life, she found a new role in politics serving as both US Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

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Tony Benn (88)
(March 14th) One of the longest serving Labour MPs there has ever been, Benn never quite made it to the very top.
But as a cabinet minister, diarist, reformer (he battled to change a law which would have forced him to go to the House of Lords) and in late life an anti-war campaigner, Benn had a huge impact.

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Mickey Rooney (93)
(April 6th) Like SHirley Temple, Rooney was another child star of the Depression years. He ultimately enjoyed a long career cropping up in everything from Breakfast At Tiffany’s to the Night At The Museum movies.

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Peaches Geldof (25)
(April 7th) The daughter of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, Peaches was well on the way to massive stardom as a model, presenter and model before her tragic and unexpected death from a heroin overdose.

Peaches Geldof

Sue Townsend (68)
(April 10th) As the author of the diaries of hapless teenage wannabe intellectual Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend was one of the most popular British authors of the Eighties.

Bob Hoskins (71)
(April 29th) A familiar face throughout the last forty years thanks to roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook, Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven and The Long Good Friday, Hoskins was one of Britain’s best and most underrated actors.

bob hoskins

Rik Mayall (56)
(June 9th) One of the biggest names of the 80s alternative comedy scene, Mayall shot to fame in the roles of odious student Rick in the anarchic sitcom The Young Ones, evil politician Alan B’stard in The New Statesman and Lord Flash ‘Flash by name, flash by nature!’ in Blackadder before returning in the Nineties with Bottom.
James Garner (86)
(July 19th) US actor best known for his roles in The Great Escape and in TV’s Maverick and The Rockford Files.
Robin Williams (63)
(August 11th) Legendary US comedian and actor who moved from zany TV stardom Mork and Mindy, onto the big screen in Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. Although increasingly drawn towards dramatic roles such as The Fisher King, One Hour Photo and an Oscar winning turn in Good Will Hunting, he also continued to appear in often very sentimental comedies including the huge popular hit Mrs. Doubtfire.

Robin Williams as Mork

Lauren Bacall (89)
(August 12th) True Hollywood giant famously married to Humphrey Bogart. Great beauty, superb actress, her most famous roles were largely opposite Bogart in To Have And Have Not, The Big Sleep and Key Largo in the Forties and Fifties.

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Lord Richard Attenborough (90)
(August 24th) Brother of the celebrated naturalist David, “Dickie” enjoyed huge success as an actor in key post-war films such as Brighton Rock, The Great Escape and 10 Rillington Place before becoming the director of the Oscar winning Gandhi and Cry Freedom in the Eighties. He later returned to acting in Jurassic Park and the remake of Miracle on 34th Street in which he played Father Christmas.

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Joan Rivers (81)
(September 4th) Can we talk? Hilarious US comedian famed for sharp often harsh wit and witty one liners. A winning although sometimes controversial presence on the chat show circuit for decades.

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Sir Donald Sinden (90)
(September 12th) Celebrated British actor of stage and screen often noted for his distinctive voice and charismatic performances in everything from Shakespeare to sitcom Never The Twain.
Sir Ian Paisley (88)
(September 12th) Charismatic and controversial, fiercely pro-Unionist Northern Ireland politician.
Lynda Bellingham (66)
(October 19th) Beloved TV star of All Creatures Great And Small, Loose Women, sitcoms such as Second Thoughts and Faith In The Future and those OXO adverts. Although often a strong mother figure on screen, her private life was sadly often marked by domestic discord.

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Alvin Stardust (72)
(October 23rd) Pop star and stage actor famed for his Seventies hit My Coo Ca Choo.
Warren Clark (67)
(November 12th) Much loved British character actor famous for roles in everything from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange to Blackadder The Third. He was probably best known for his role in detective drama Dalziel and Pascoe alongside Colin Buchanan..
Phillip Hughes (25)
(November 27th) Australian Test batsman tragically killed when a ball struck him on the head during a match.
PD James (94)
(November 27th) Acclaimed British crime writer. Author of The Children Of Men and Death Comes To Pemberley.
Jeremy Thorpe (85)
(December 4th) Liberal leader of the Sixties and Seventies. Initially, the most successful post-war Liberal leader up until that point, rumours of his homosexuality and his role in a high profile murder trial, in which he was found innocent, wrecked his career.

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David Ryall (79)
(December 28th) Familiar character actor perhaps best known for his later roles in Outnumbered, The Village and Harry Potter.