Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Book Review • STARK NAKED • Graham Stark • 2003

Stark Naked: The Autobiography of Graham Starkstarknaked

‘Always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ might have been a more apt title for Graham Stark’s autobiography, Stark Naked, the story of his life in theatre, film, radio and television. The book displays his lack of rancour about the profession and betrays few regrets. It bears witness to a world where stardom may be relished by many but enjoyed by few of its participants.

Born and brought up on Merseyside between the two World Wars, this third and youngest son of a ship’s purser and a doting mother with theatrical aspirations, Stark’s two life-long obsessions — theatre and photography — have worked in parallel and sometimes in tandem.

Even before attending RADA, he had worked as a child actor and dancer in several productions, although his first official engagement was in that old war-horse of British theatre, the pantomime. His comic abilities were revealed in a production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, where he played Macduff’s son, managing to elicit titters from the audience. One could say that Stark’s face has been his fortune, taking him from ENSA to The Return of the Pink Panther, and beyond.

Stark gives little away about his emotional life and his family, although they do figure, making this most definitely a life in showbiz. Being a character actor has allowed him to taste stardom without the loss of anonymity. False noses, wigs and hats have all enabled him to lead a somewhat charmed life prompting John Lennon to question Stark’s existence.

Lennon and the other Beatles are just some of the many leading lights of cinema, music and theatre that Stark has bumped into, starred alongside or had the pleasure of meeting throughout his eighty years. That he has also managed to capture them in black and white for his photographic collection, some of which are included, away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi or the film editor, just shows how lucky he has been during such a lengthy career.

One of his longest friendships was with that most mercurial of comic actors, Peter Sellers. From their days in the army during the Second World War through the Goons and on to the international movie stardom that saw Sellers cut adrift from normality, Stark has some particular insights.

Perhaps Stark Naked lacks depth — though the author is fairly opinionated — but the anecdotes are enough to keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page. Whether it is about being best man when Peter Sellers married Britt Ekland or describing Julie Andrews in her Moroccan stand-off, this is a must-read for the true film buff.

Howard Watson © 2003

Originally published n R&V 09-09-03

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