AS a teenager, I was jealous of actor Gary Shail. Not because he played Spider in Ken Russell’s seminal Quadrophenia. Nor because Richard O’Brien cast him as Oscar Drill in his Rocky Horror follow-up, Shock Treatment.
No, the reason was simple, he got to work with one of my comedy heroines, the late, great Irene Handl – he played Steve, her spiky-haired grandson, in comedy Metal Mickey.
I often wondered what happened to him in the intervening years. Sure, he popped up occasionally in The Bill, Casualty, The Professionals, and even with Michael Caine in Jack the Ripper, but I always felt his talent hadn’t been fully recognised.
It was thanks to another Eighties TV series, Johnny Jarvis, that I recently discovered Shail’s story. When its star, Mark Farmer, passed away in April at just 53, Shail posted his condolences on Facebook and they found their way into my timeline. A visit to his page revealed he had published his memoirs, I Think I’m On The Guest List (available now from www.newhavenpublishingltd.com).
Actor, musician, producer, Shail’s story is that of a man with a well-primed survival instinct that appears in constant battle with a desire to self-destruct. From drugs to drink and women, he glories in excess, battling and embracing his addictions and demons in turn.
Conversational, witty and quirky, there’s also a raw, often brutal, honesty to Shail’s writing, and as he recalls the bad times with the good, it’s not always an easy read.
Despite this, his compassion and trademark ‘cheeky charm’ pervade each recollection, allowing a smile where none should exist, not least when he’s writing about Handl, whom he reveals to be a character and a half; a tale about her toothless lapdogs, which she kept in her bra, ended me.
Ultimately, however, I Think I’m On The Guest List is an uplifting insight into a life well lived by a “cult legend” who justifies his status by sticking around long enough to tell his tale.
The world’s a better place for that, although I’ll never watch Irene Handl in the same light again.