Monday, October 23, 2006

Barrymore revisited

Michael Barrymore is described by his publisher as 'one of Britain's favourite entertainers'. Well, he certainly was, once. In the early 1990s he could pull in a Saturday night TV audience of 13 million. Which in the UK is close to a quarter of the population.

Barrymore's career ran into trouble in the mid 1990s, with drug problems, and later when he finally admitted that, despite being married for many years, he was really gay. That was survivable, but then a young man called Stuart Lubbock died in mysterious circumstances during a party at Barrymore's home, and that totally closed things down.

On 2 October this year, Barrymore published a new autobiography. It's entitled Awight Now: Setting the Record Straight, and I think we can reasonably say that the new book is an attempt to revive public interest in Barrymore as an entertainer.

Well, I can't say that the attempt has been wildly successful, so far. The new book doesn't appear in the Times's list of the top 50 sellers for the week ending 14 October, and Google reveals relatively little by way of press coverage. It has not been serialised anywhere.

There's quite a good interview in the Scotsman, which explains Barrymore's problems rather clearly. It also provides some useful information about the autopsy on Stuart Lubbock.

But the real stunner, in journalistic terms, is the interview in the Observer, with Chrissy Iley, who found the book 'riveting'. She had to go to Bahrein to get this interview, but it is, I promise you, is a first-class piece of journalism. No great revelations, but classic stuff.

Chrissy gives a graphic description of how the media sharks tore Barrymore to pieces. Let us not forget, of course, that the death of a young man is a matter to be taken very seriously. But even so, there is something profoundly unattractive, and not a little worrying, about the way in which Barrymore was publicly tried, as if for murder, and found guilty.

The truth is, the press loved him because he could sell papers. The murkier the business got, or could be made, the more they liked it. Now, however -- well, Barrymore seems to be history, at least as far as the tabloids are concerned. Though he is going to star in a Bill Kenwright stage production of Scrooge, later this year.

And what, you may be wondering, of that other book. We noted here, back in August, that Stuart Lubbock's father was putting out a book entitled Not Awight, Getting Away with Murder: Uncovering How Stuart Lubbock Was Killed at Michael Barrymore's Home.

According to the Telegraph, Mr Lubbock turned up at a Barrymore book signing a couple of weeks ago, and made a few unflattering comments before being moved on by security staff. And according to Mr Lubbock's local paper, his book is going to be serialised in the Daily Mail. What in fact happened, I think, is that the Mail just gave prominence to the book-signing incident. In fact, given that they know so much about it, they may have had advance warning. The Mail doesn't like Barrymore. Their columnist Lynda Lee Potter once said that she would rather stick pins in her eyes than watch him on TV again.

Finally, you might like to look at an extremely interesting post on the blog of Mark Simpson. This gives a further fascinating insight into the mores of the UK's popular press.

Mark reveals that, when Barrymore suddenly proved to be a bit more popular on Celebrity Big Brother than the tabloids had expected, the Sun dropped the 'Barrymore is an anal-rapist murderer' line and 'revealed' the results of a 'special investigation'.

This special investigation, so called, drew upon material contained in an article written three years earlier by Mark Simpson. And how had Mark obtained his information? He had got much of it via 'the fiendishly clever stratagem of simply reading the transcripts of the public inquest into Lubbock's death. The same inquest at which all the major newspapers - including the Sun - had staff reporters.'

If there is one thing that I admire in life, and which gives me pleasure, it is professionalism. I like to see someone do a job well, whatever it is. Michael Barrymore the performer was never my cup of tea, but that he was (and presumably still is) a polished, skilled professional is surely beyond doubt. And ditto some of the journalists who have written about him, and who have been mentioned above.

Well, there you go. I had intended this Barrymore thing to be a two-minute piece. But, as is often the case, it turns out that it took most of the morning.


Anonymous said...

I'm reminded by this of the tragic story of Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle. The sordid accusations never disappear. The success of Barrymore's book in overcoming this stigma will depend much on whether he wrote it to revive his career or as a sincere attempt to set the record straight. The two don't always go together very well.

Annette said...

I am a big fan of Michael's. I saw him once, some years ago, at the Oxford theatre. He was brilliant.
However, I also agree with Andrew O'hara when he wrote: the sordid accusations never disappear.
Michael will never forget,nor will he ever be allowed to forget, what happened, and I wish him the best of luck for the future. I, personally, would love to see him on t.v. again.

MarkFarley said...

We're foreseeing this book selling a lot better then The Barrymore book, ironically.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of Barrymore's, in fact I can watch maybe 30 seconds of his "act stupid and everyone else won't feel as stupid" stuff before I switch off.

But! He was clearly innocent. He was clearly hounded by the press. He was clearly tried by the press. He was hung out to dry by a press who once loved him...

Private Eye should, in particular, be ashamed for their front page "Buggered if I know" attempt at homophobia... PE go on about how crap the press are in this country and yet they do this when the evidence pointed the other way...

No hypocrite like a public school boy hypocrite...