'Not for the first time, I reach the conclusion that artists should take vows of celibacy – they should only be allowed to wreck their own lives.'
Brought up in luxury in Beverly Hills, Mayfair and the South of France, Alexander ‘Sacha’ Newley, the son of the late Anthony Newley and Dame Joan Collins, remains limitlessly ungrateful.
Despite being given his own mini-garage ‘stocked with pedal cars and tricycles’, and growing up in mansions with blue pools where the neighbours, including James Caan and Steve McQueen, disported themselves, our author, born in 1965, is aggrieved. His father wasn’t genuinely generous; he only ‘showered us with gifts to fill the void in himself’. His mother, meanwhile, was ‘the alpha Jezebel... Conspicuous absence. Tense presence.’
If Sacha and Joan didn’t get along, that was entirely and continuously Joan’s fault. She was an ice queen who was always off to parties dressed in knee-high white boots and bangle earrings: ‘Although I longed for affection, I could only mirror back to her the lack of affection I felt.’
This book reminded me of a sad volume cobbled together, soon after his death, by Peter Sellers’s children – in which there was a general air of complaint that their own adult lives had never quite reached the heights of acclaim and wealth achieved by their old dad.
By some strange, twisted, emotional logic, the genius and accomplishments of Sellers had to be put on trial, called to account, diminished. He was excoriated for not having been ordinary. Thus Newley and Collins in this curdled opus. Newley is (or was) ‘a self-indulgent poseur and conman’. The public may have loved his performances but, in reality, ‘He was withdrawn. He was prickly. He was a hypochondriac.’
Newley’s obsessive-compulsive routines for bathing and going to the lavatory are outlined at tasteless length. Joan, meanwhile, in addition to pampering her own ego, ‘failed to understand [her husband’s] helpless morbid sufferings’.
We get the picture. Sacha felt neglected. ‘As a child, I could feel their insecurity, and knew their focus was... not on me.’
Not for the first time, I reach the conclusion that artists should take vows of celibacy – they should only be allowed to wreck their own lives.
‘I develop a lisp and then a stutter,’ Sacha tells us. ‘I am quiet and docile.’
In the world of show business, children are the collateral damage. But let us look for a moment at the Newley/Collins ménage. Though Joan had been a Fifties starlet and a kind of dark, gamine version of Diana Dors, and though Newley, David Lean’s Artful Dodger, had achieved Broadway success with The Roar of the Greasepaint – the Smell of the Crowd, and he also had a role in Doctor Dolittle, they weren’t quite in the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor class. No wonder they felt that the ground any moment would give way beneath them if films flopped, if recording contracts failed to materialise, if the ivory telephone failed to ring.
Indeed, in the period covered by Sacha’s childhood, things weren’t going tremendously well. Joan was compelled to attend auditions and casting calls. She made loads of terrible horror films about demonic babies or killer ants. Newley, his son says almost delightedly, descended into ‘the valley of dissolution’, sitting at home smoking opium-laced grass. ‘He was becoming an anachronism, a middle-of-the-road crooner of elevator music’, employed by the Mafia to sing in Las Vegas. When I saw him, he was touring the English provinces in the musical Scrooge.
Sacha looks back on everything with modish puritanical disapproval. He is particularly exercised by ‘the unbridled sinfulness’ of his father’s sex life, the ‘endless cattle call of naked nincompoops’ who were to be found on sun-kissed Californian beaches. Newley ‘lived to screw, to dissolve in orgasm before the in-gathering of himself back to loneliness and self-exile’, we are told. Jesus H Corbett! Are we meant to admire prose like that? Sacha’s attempts at fancy writing are embarrassing. ‘I was present at the birth of wonder and collected the speckled eggs of immortal birds,’ he says, in an attempt to evoke, I presume, the ‘sexual antics and voracious drug-taking’ of the Sixties and Seventies.
The book is illustrated with Sacha’s paintings – overworked oil portraits, with too much colour. The same could be said of Anthony Newley’s clownish entertainment style, which was somehow misshapen, over-scaled, like a Cruikshank engraving sprung to life. He deserves a proper book.