Behind the Curtain

Peter Bowles
Oberon Masters

Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith in The Rivals

Many readers of this enjoyable little hardback volume will learn as much about the precipitous world of the actor from the throwaway lines as the overt statements.

Everyone loves Peter Bowles. He is that suave, sophisticated star of To the Manor Born as well as numerous stage productions. Many of the latter have been directed by Sir Peter Hall (to whom the book is dedicated) with the star playing equally suave leads in comedies by Sheridan, Oscar Wilde and their ilk.

While it might be the surface impression that Bowles is an actor who has celebrated his 75th birthday and has been a roaring success ever since graduating from RADA, life was not always so good.

As Peter Bowles repeats throughout this Oberon Masters publication, he did not become an overnight success until he was 49 and had been working in the business for the best part of 30 years.

Even then, having made a belated breakthrough, he still somehow managed to become a household name recognised by anyone that he passed on the street except casting directors.

Unbelievably, this iconic actor spent a year in his famous prime seeking work, which says at least as much about the failure of those attempting to cast the very best as it does about his professionalism and ability, neither of which are ever likely to be questioned by readers.

Behind the Curtain, which is subtitled "The Job of Acting", consists of under 100 small pages but, while only the length of a short story, it is packed with good, solid pieces of advice for would-be actors as well as many humorous anecdotes.

The odd thing is that even though thousands of books have been written on this topic, Mr Bowles still manages to come up with a number of fresh ideas and stories that will not be known to the general reader, although those steeped in the profession might find some more familiar.

Despite its brevity, Behind the Curtain covers a wide range of topics, although few in any great depth. Readers will learn about such matters as the brown envelope in which scripts are delivered, theatre dressing rooms, the relationship between actors and their audiences and bringing matters right up-to-date, work in TV and film including a chapter on sitcoms and another covering commercials and voiceovers.

This book should prove to be popular with the millions of fans of this versatile actor as well as youngsters keen to make their way in one of the most difficult professions that anyone could choose.

Every purchaser will come away better informed and greatly entertained, which is no bad recommendation.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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