Richard Bacon is perhaps best known as the only Blue Peter presenter to be sacked. He’s also the presenter of the afternoon show on BBC Radio 5 Live, to which I occasionally listen.
A Series of Unrelated Events is his first book. It’s an autobiography of various surreal moments in his life, presented out of sequence and with no connecting narrative. I’m a little unnerved by the use of the word “series” in the title, given that the events described are not chronological. Clearly, “series” does not necessarily imply chronology, but it unsettles me nonetheless. And, as you might imagine, a series of out-of-sequence anecdotes doesn’t add up to a particularly coherent whole.
From listening on 5 Live, I’ve often thought that there are two sides to Richard Bacon. One side is serious, intelligent and insightful. This side is shown most commonly when he’s handling breaking news, or following a long-running news story, or interviewing someone particularly newsworthy and interesting. The other side is faux-blokey, flippant, and a little arrogant. This side is shown most commonly on slow news days, or when he’s presenting one of his many predictable and relatively dull “features”.
Unfortunately, this book is written almost exclusively by the latter side of Richard Bacon. There are some chapters where the former gets a look in: particularly the first, about his sacking from Blue Peter, and one near the end of the book, in which he talks about internet trolls. But most of the rest is written in the faux-blokey style, with “hilarious” anecdotes about subjects like hiding the fact he’d drunk a bottle of wine by replacing the contents with water, people having sex at his wedding, and outsourcing his film review column to a friend.
I suspect that this is a book that could be improved dramatically through the employment of a very good editor. As a first draft, this book is fine: it just needs somebody to point out which of the anecdotes don’t work and should be dropped, explain which bits Bacon should expand with richer detail and wider discussion, and a judicious use of coloured pen to tidy up his often infuriatingly affected writing style.
This perception is reinforced by a number of asides which surely should have been edited. For example, when re-introducing a character from a previous anecdote, Bacon says:
Let’s call him Jack (I can’t remember if I identify him in that earlier chapter and can’t be bothered to check).
Perhaps this is supposed to be humorous. Perhaps I am supposed to laugh. If I read this on someone’s blog, perhaps I would chuckle and roll my eyes. But when I’ve paid for a book, I expect this sort of thing to be edited out. I don’t want to see the process of writing, I want to be immersed in the content. But, as I say, perhaps I’m over-reacting to a joke I didn’t find funny.
Yet here’s another exhibit: there is a chapter which Bacon opens in the voice of Charles Dickens. That is precisely as painful as it sounds, and he gets bored with his terrible impression part way though:
Now read on, as Richard Bacon takes up the story.
That you, Charles. And sorry readers, that didn’t really work out as I’d hoped. He doesn’t half go on a bit.
Again, this is a passage that is more cringe-worthy than funny – perhaps passable on an amateurish blog (like mine). But, as if to reinforce that the editing on this volume has been sloppy, the following appears at the end of the chapter:
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that the first half of the chapter was written in the style of Charles Dickens and the second not. This is because the Charles Dickens bit was taking too long and I got bored.
Why repeat what he’s already pointed out earlier in the text? Pass the red pen, please.
I guess what frustrates me most about this book is that Bacon has an interesting career story to tell, and the intelligence and wit to tell it well. Instead, it feels like he’s been left largely to his own devices, and so gone somewhat off piste. As a collection of anecdotes written by a minor celebrity, it isn’t bad… but I’m ultimately left disappointed, because I know it could have been so much better.
I very much hope that Bacon one day has the opportunity to write a decent, considered memoir. Perhaps that’s something one can’t do part-way through one’s career. Perhaps the distance isn’t great enough to allow for proper reflection. But, if he does go on to write one, I suspect I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. And I think there’s just enough promise in the better chapters of Unrelated Events to grudgingly recommend this first draft of history until that day.