April 29th, 2007


You Cannot Live as I have Lived and not expect to end up like this

Terence Blacker You Cannot Live as I have Lived and not expect to end up like this (2007) is a biography of the late Willie Donaldson. Donaldson came from a wealthy family and, after attending Winchester School and Cambridge University, pursued a varied life as a theatrical impresario, a journalist, author, and a rake. He spent much of his life in poverty exacerbated by a lack of monetary awareness, a crack cocaine habit, and an enthusiasm for prostitutes. Known to my parents' generation as the producer of Beyond The Fringe, Donaldson came to the attention of my contemporaries as Henry Root, epistilist to the pompous. His "here's a quid" became a catchphrase for the eighties and his sequence of increasingly scurrilous letters to Esther Rantzen were a widespread delight. Donaldson's life was peppered with relationships with remarkable women, of whom Carly Simon was the best known. His life also lurched from one bankruptcy to another and at his death his estate was in such disarray that his executor refused to administer it. He had become the master of the toilet book (or non-book as the trade has it) and he excelled at mock reference books, some of which still hold po-faced influence on idle researchers.

For some fifteen years Blacker had worked with Donaldson at the Independent newspaper, for whom Donaldson published a funny, scathing and dishonourably revealing weekly diary. They had become friends and remained so despite Donaldson's casual disloyalties. It is a testament to the warmth of the man that most people stayed fond of him even after he had hurt them badly. Donaldson's own accounts of himself (and there are many) were largely misleading and usually self-deprecating. Blacker steers a tortured line between the truthful, the malicious, the appalling, and the appealing. For Willie Donaldson was a creature of contrasts, extremes, and inconsistencies.It is my impression that Blacker has revealed far more of his subject than many people could but, in the end, too much of the man's life remains unknowable.