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Back in the Day: Melvyn Bragg's deeply affecting, first ever memoir

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This is the tale of a boy who lived in a pub and expected to leave school at 15 yet won a scholarship to Oxford. Details of places and townsfolk were very well remembered, and I was taken back with a warm feeling, to the 1950s, a time when community was important. a fascinating and often moving portrait of a time, a place and a working-class boy who fell in love with words and made a distinguished career out of using them extremely well.

The first thing to say is that this memoir is keenly drawn, but it is not restricted to a cinematic re-telling. I was very touched with Bragg’s emotional candour which he cannot help but show, seeming to me to be crying/voice cracking as he describes his mother’s teaching the town girls country dancing. Most people are too weary, and too broke, to be happy in an unbridled way: every home has at least one lodger; every house has a thousand jobs that need doing.Into this perspective flash vividly drawn Wigton characters, such as the unfortunate Andrew, or Melvyn’s main mentor at The Nelson School, Spitfire pilot and then History teacher, Jimmie James (died 2020), to whom he pays a wonderful tribute.

The Boys' Own scrapes and japes - an apple orchard raid, a gang hideout dug into a river bank - come alive like set pieces from his beloved Jennings. When my brother and I went to stay with my mother's parents, there was an outside lavatory and the toilet paper was newspaper cut into squares. For me the audiobook was somewhat flawed in that his own performance is at a speed quicker than his normal speaking voice as you would hear it on the radio or on the TV. And then there is the beloved town itself: Melvyn’s safe and dangerous cradle, a whole world in itself for those that looked for it. I was walking down Walton Street and saw this big poster that had the spitting image of my girlfriend on it.

This is also particularly interesting for me being from Wigton myself, knowing the author and many of the characters mentioned, as well as all the backstreets and lanes of Wigton, and what it is to be from the town.

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