Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent
By Steven Berkoff
JR Books £18.99
Dateline: 14th November, 2010
There is a sudden trend for theatrical legends to expose their childhoods
to the public gaze. Steven Berkoff's re-enactment of his troubled early
years follows hard on the heels of the happier experiences of Michael
Frayn, related in My Father's Fortune.
Before purchasing this book, those interested in the career of Steven
Berkoff should look carefully at the title. The author certainly gets
it right, since in the years leading up to and just after the Second
World War, his experiences in the East End and, briefly, New York eventually
end with teenage incarceration.
Much of the material covers ground that is similar to the early experiences
of Harold Pinter. Both were brought up in the same period and location,
as the children of non-practising Jewish parents whose lack of faith
meant that neither received the traditional bar mitzvah to herald their
entry into adulthood.
Where Pinter was inspired by the teachers at Hackney Downs School,
Berkoff was merely beaten by them in both the literal and metaphorical
senses. Before that, he had already become unhappy and self-pitying,
hating his father and having distinctly mixed feelings about a mother
whom he loved but chastises for her lack of generosity.
Soon enough, the diary begins to describe a life of sex and thugs and
rock 'n' roll, as Berkoff does his damnedest to fall in with every bad
type in town, when he is not jiving the night away in an effort to seduce
any girl within reach.
The writing style is not quite what one would expect from this often
dazzling playwright and Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent only grabs
the attention when the aspiring thief is thrown into a horrendous Boot
Camp for young offenders.
Otherwise, this book is exactly what it purports to be, although while
the literary style is that of a barely educated youth, the question
arises as to whether this is actually pastiche, since some of the observations
are related from a period decades later.
In any event, it is not until page 177 that there is even an inkling
of a possible future career in theatre. Until then, either a life of
crime or an alternative version selling men's clothing seemed much more
As a consequence, Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent might provide
some insight into the boy that eventually became the great Steven Berkoff
but its youthful self-obsession and lack of verbal fluidity may not
be to everybody's taste.
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