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December 29, 2012 / ultrafox1963

LOUD, PROUD AND DEFIANT

It takes a combination of incredible bravado and supreme vanity for a writer to dare to publish their memoirs in multi-volume format.

Yet Danny Baker, one of the best radio broadcasters of his generation, has achieved this feat successfully in Going To Sea In A Sieve, the tale of the first 25 years of his life from 1957 to 1982.

Baker is probably best known for his adverts for washing powder and the mid-90s masterpiece of highbrow television, Pets Win Prizes. He can appear brash and sometimes arrogant to his legions of detractors, many of whom frequently (and often with good reason) lose no opportunity to parade their prejudices against cheeky, chirpy London chappies.

But, as many regular listeners of his radio shows during the last 20+ years will readily confirm, Baker is actually a genial character of formidable intellect, resplendent humour and devastating wit.

It is a delight to discover, upon perusing these pages, that his writing bears the same enthralling trademarks. However, whether these qualities were developed through or in spite of his upbringing on a Bermondsey council estate is still not entirely clear.

While neither condemning or condoning criminal activities within his community (and occasionally even his own family), Baker’s honest and unsanitised observations of South London life provide a fascinating insight into the social history of the era.

He earns further commendation for signposting – rather than detailing or explaining – the passions that occupied much of his life both then and now -such as early 70s “progressive” rock and Millwall FC.

In addition, though, GTSIAS also provides a veritable treasure trove of tales from his work in a Soho record store, and subsequently as a writer for the New Musical Express and reporter for London Weekend Television.

To cite just three examples, if you want to know which glam rock legend literally offers Baker the shirt off his back, the identity of the notorious drug-addled NME hack who habitually exposed himself to female work colleagues, or which tabloid offered Baker £15000 (several years’ salary at that time) to concoct details of a non-existent affair with Elton John, then this book will delight and amuse.

Baker’s principled refusal to consider such an offer (albeit before being advised of the remuneration available) stands in marked contrast to the approach that many of his contemporaries in the music press both at the NME and elsewhere may well have employed in a similar situation.

For all this memoir’s innumerable strengths, though, there is one glaring geographical grievance that cannot pass without correction. Kevin Rowland may indeed have saved the author’s life in a Birmingham nightclub following a particularly-riotous punk concert. However, he is and always will be a “Wolvo” rather than a “Brummie”. To the good folk of the Black Country, these distinctions matter. I trust that suitable corrections will appear in future editions.

Nevertheless, the further volumes of the autobiography that will undoubtedly appear in due course (author’s health permitting) will be widely and eagerly anticipated. In the meantime, the audio version, read by Baker himself in his own distinctive style, is to be thoroughly and unashamedly recommended.

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