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Self Portrait: My Journey as an Actress,…

Self Portrait: My Journey as an Actress, Wife and Mother in the Swinging…

by Anneke Wills

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This memoir took me far, far longer to read than it ever should have. It's been sitting on my shelf for about two years, just looking at me. I tried, on a couple of occasions, to read it, but I was always put off by the highly anecdotal style. It's entirely accurate to call it a memoir and not an autobiography, because it really is a memory book: it jumps from memory to memory, sometimes paragraph to paragraph, in a roughly chronological and thematic progression. There's really not much in the way of structure, and it always comes off as something that was dictated to another person (as, I believe, is actually the case). Initially, I found that a little off-putting, but once I committed to the book and I got through the first forty or fifty pages, I actually found it rather addictive. Who'd have thought?

It helps that Wills has an extremely endearing personality, never holding back on good memories or bad, always remembering people with either extreme affection or fairly abrupt distaste. Personally, I got the sense of someone who both experienced the 1960s and came out with a multifaceted view of it - some thrilling positives and some dark truths - and because Wills is so honest and open in the way she tells her stories, you leave with the feeling that you have a better understanding, too. Of course, it helps to know who many of the people are already - Anthony Newley figures largely, as does Michael Gough, along with a whole cavalcade of other British stars of radio, theatre and television. It's interesting to see how much Wills is able to forgive and generate love toward people who, frankly, were often self-absorbed - and that includes her younger self. There's a huge aspect of catharsis to the book which just can't be denied.

Fairly late in the book, there's a revelation about Wills' brother, Robin, which throws the style of her memory book into fairly sharp relief. To say more would rob Self Portrait of one of its major arcs, but suffice to say that I finished the book far more aware of why it is the way it is than when I started. I'm quite curious, now, to read Wills' second volume, Naked, especially as it gets away from the lights of British celebrity and on into her travels in India, the United States, and beyond. Wills is a bubbly and sensitive storyteller, and I'm interested to see where she goes next. ( )
  saroz | Dec 22, 2015 |

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.) ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 12, 2015 |
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Anneke Wills has had an extraordinary life. She played Doctor Who companion Polly for two years and, at 17, she began a relationship with Anthony Newley while working on a TV series. This work tells her story.

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