Most of us, let’s be honest, come from, in today’s parlance, hard-working ordinary families. Our parents may have been absent or doting or demanding but by and large they were not extraordinary. How wonderful it would have been to have eccentric parents as Robin had. The family lived in a big Bohemian house in London’s Earl’s Court. For mom and pop there were extra-marital affairs, heavy drinking and even a little smoking the herb. Robin’s mother and father might even be described as rich and famous.
We are all products of our childhood. Early experiences are shaped by the outlook, behaviour and lifestyle of our parents and this shapes how we turn out as adults. Most mums and dads want the best for their children although some don’t always go about it the right way. Even when we reject the dictums they tried to instil, mum and dad are always with us. Perhaps only when they are gone can we reflect on what they did for us. And maybe only as an adult can we reflect on those parental decisions and see them for what they were – maybe right, maybe wrong.
They say that everyone has a novel, or at least a memoir, inside them. It’s a claim Robin Le Mesurier has more than most. He is the son of John Le Mesurier (a talented character actor best remembered for his role as Sergeant Wilson in one of TV’s best sitcoms, Dads Army) and Hattie Jacques who starred in 17 Carry On movies and acted as sister to Eric Sykes in another long-running sitcom.
Robin and his brother Jake grew up in a bustling house where half the Carry On cast were guests at Christmas dinner. Robin loved music and studied at the Royal College of Music. He was a DJ and a session player, something of a roadie and pals with various celebs in the early 70s. Unlike Dr Hook he knew he would never see his smiling face on the cover of Rolling Stone. He did not become a star, although he did become a Womble. The children’s puppet show had a couple of novelty pop hits and the Wombles’ representatives on earth were session players in animal bodysuits who mimed on Top of the Pops.
Robin finally surfaced in LA where he had a fling with Sharon Arden (later Osbourne). He dated a Bunny Girl and became a member of Rod Stewart’s backing band and lived in ultracool Topanga Canyon with a modicum of happiness and satisfaction. What Robin didn’t have in writing his story was a good editor – someone who could have drawn out his reminiscences in a way that would have gripped the reader from the get go. A figure on the fringes of the heyday of popular British TV (who had Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers playing jazz in the room below his bedroom) should have great stories to tell. A rock’n’roll backroom boy might have all sorts of salacious beans to spill or insights on life on the road but Robin seems boringly squeaky clean. We get a catalogue of the “in December we were in Düsseldorf” variety. Maybe he was too young to say what precisely it was like growing up the son of two much-loved TV stars but he could have suggested what it was like in hindsight. We want to know not just what he did, but how it felt.
Many of his anecdotes get a big build-up only to come crashing down like someone putting their foot through the bass drum. He also has a tendency to put things in “quotation marks” seemingly at “random”.
Three quarters of the way through the book as Robin is touring with Rod Stewart the story gets a little more interesting. There are all sorts of hotel room hijinks – as when the band let loose live chickens in pop legend Dick Clark’s suite. Later still he was working with the French Elvis, Johnny Hallyday.
An exercise in how to make an interesting life into a dull one this book offers, only occasionally, a juicy tidbit followed by “I couldn’t possibly comment”. But, Robin, that’s exactly what the reader wants.
A Charmed Rock’n’Roll Life by Robin Le Mesurier (The Book Guild, £9.99) is out now