Monday, 13 June 2011

Ex Libris Bernard Bresslaw

These days, “celebrity's secret revealed” carries, by default, the foreboding atmosphere of untoward sexual tomfoolery. Thirty-odd years ago, things were often far more innocent. From Jack Douglas's rose cultivation through Peter Bull's teddy bear collection to John Noakes's penchant for making model trees out of molten glass, the star with the private passion was the subject not of scandal, but delight. Such as the moment in 1975 when Bernard Bresslaw publically announced: “Actually I've been a bibliophile for years.”

More than that, “he's an avid historian who, given half the chance, will lecture you on ancient Chaldean history or Schliemann's discovery of Troy”. The TV Times discovers all this when it's invited into the hallowed private library of “the Carry On clodhopper” at his Hertfordshire fastness, filled with tomes like The Life of John Milton and Collier's The English Stage, all adorned with the personalised bookplate, “Ex libris Bernard Bresslaw”.

Bernie, you see, lives for books. He measures out his repertory life in acquired volumes. “Hmm, Torquay, let me see, that was Westermark's History of Human Marriage.” The loo is just as crammed with reading matter as any other room: “side by side with toilet rolls and tissues, there are Latin primers, Rupert Brooke, Historic Oddities and Strange Events, and Slang, Oddities and Cant.”

His sons are the same, explains his wife Liz. “They take volumes in – volumes, I ask you – and come out stamping their feet with cramp. I timed one of them once – three-quarters of an hour!” His other passion is on an altogether more TV Times level – talking to his tomatoes. “Come along chaps, the sun's out, let's be having you all nice and plump!”

The Bresslavian Library was typical of these sorts of articles. You still get them, of course – The One Show would declare a state of emergency otherwise – but the peccadilloes have multiplied, and they're hunting them to extinction. Perhaps each generation gets the celebrity family it deserves, but why settle for tutting at a bunch of dysfunctional kids when you can have gloriously eccentric aunts and uncles round for tea?

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