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Self-Portrait and Naked, by Anneke Wills

Anneke Wills was probably the most glamorous actor ever cast as a companion in Old Who. In Self-Portrait, the first volume of her autobiography, she gives what seems like a pretty frank account of her life as a young actress in the late 1950s and early 1960s; she was in with celebrity from a young age, being more or less adopted by the Craxton family when she first moved to London and then circulating among the bright young things - her first serious boyfriend was Edward Fox, another boyfriend dumped her for Joan Collins while she was pregnant. But she then skipped up a generation and found stability, if not complete happiness, with Michael Gough.

It would be easy for such a book to be a series of name-droppings and anecdotes, and such books have been often done before (David Niven's are probably classics of the art). But Aneeke Wills took a long time out of acting and public life, and she has clearly taken the time and space to reflect on and absorb her own experiences, making Self-Portrait a much better and slightly quirkier book than most celebrity autobiogs are. The only chapter that feels a bit out of place, oddly enough, is the account of her time on Doctor Who, possibly based too closely on her prepared remarks for conventions which are aimed at a different audience in a different style. Otherwise, I really enjoyed dipping into her stream of consciousness, and learning all kinds of things about how the British theatrical community turned the corner from the 1950s to the 1960s. (Quite apart from anything else, I had never heard of The Alberts.)

I have to admit that I bought Self-Portrait a couple of years ago, and hadn't especially prioritised reading it. But I enjoyed it so much that I ordered the second volume, Naked, immediately. The second is a somewhat more personal book, picking up the story from the end of her acting career, when she decided to concentrate on her family with Michael Gough. She discovered transcendental meditation, the marriage ended, she travelled the world doing bits and pieces linked with the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh (and other things; in both books she reflects that cleaning bathrooms in California she became aware that her former romantic rival Joan Collins had achieved international megastardom), attracting and discarding husbands and lovers along the way, and eventually very much to her surprise discovered that she was a venerated figure among Who fandom on the basis of a year's work decades earlier. The book retains the breathlessly entertaining present tense of the first volume, but loses a bit by being less focused on a single professional activity, and slightly loses momentum towards the end. I still enjoyed it, if not quite as much as the first volume; I heartily recommend both to Who fans, and the first to students of 1950s and 1960s British entertainment culture.

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