pegg“It was never my intention to write an autobiography.”

On one of my many and frequent excursions into London, I last year found myself absolutely bladdered and ended up in a small pub which I believe was above a theatre, somewhere on the Isle of Dogs. I can’t remember it’s name, nor it’s exact location, but what I do remember is that on one wall there was an alcove filled with second hand books. A sign next to them indicated that if you popped some change into the pot, you could take away anything you wanted. I fished around in my pockets, dropped the meagre change I had into the pot and pulled down two books: Kraken by China Miéville, and Simon Pegg’s memoirs, Nerd Do Well, the latter of which I will get around to talking about once I finish this meandering introduction.

Simon Pegg is, of course, known for working on both brilliant TV shows (Spaced, Big Train, etc) and films (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc), displaying himself as both a talented actor and writer, as well as a man who seems really understand the medium and “get” what works and what doesn’t. When combined with the likes of Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, Jessica Hynes and so forth, he becomes almost unstoppable.

His memoirs, like they all tend to, detail his childhood, formative school years, later education, springboard into the world of comedy and film, and his meetings with cinema’s great and good. It’s also a love letter to those films that made him the big kid he is today, such as Star Wars and George Romero’s classic zombie flicks. There’s no denying that when it’s finished, I still like Pegg, and it’s clear that he’s talented, intelligent, passionate and, above all, perhaps strangest of all for someone who has just written a memoir, incredibly private.

It was only after finishing that I thought about how you very rarely see his name in the papers in any situation that isn’t directly related to a project he’s working on, which is absolutely not a complaint, because a man is entitled to his private life. It seems odd, therefore, to want to write a book about oneself.

The book deals heavily with Pegg’s childhood, talking about his friends, cinematic obsessions, schooldays and early theatrical accomplishments. In fact, so much of the book is given over to the first ten or fifteen years of his life that all the stuff that happened since he became famous barely has the space to shine. He actually acknowledges that himself at the end of the book, saying that to him the things that he did in his youth are far more interesting than what came later. He also says that he doesn’t want to get to into it, not because he has any bad things to say about people in particular, but simply because in writing memoirs you’re having to talk about other people, and that may not always go down so well. I do understand all that, I do, but it’s still a bit disappointing.

You may be gathering from this review that I didn’t like the book much and, unfortunately, you’d be right. I really like Pegg, and I really wanted to like this book, but his reliance on talking about his nerdy fascinations overwhelms the rest of the text. He spends numerous chapters dissecting Star Wars, going over his experiences watching the films for the first time and talking about the intricaties and cleverness of plotting and the series place in the world of science fiction and modern film making. It’s done well, too. Pegg isn’t an idiot, but sadly I’ve never seen Star Wars, have no interest in doing so, and so most of it just went over my head. It’s like when I read Victoria Coren Mitchell’s memoirs and realised I don’t know anything about poker.

Maybe it’s just me (but I don’t think it is), but I wanted to know more about what it was like working on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the latter of which is mentioned on just five fleeting occasions. This is the same problem I had with John Cleese’s book too – I want to know the secrets behind Fawlty Towers, not about his childhood. Not that either Cleese or Pegg’s lives were boring, but they also weren’t particularly dramatic.

I also should confess that I can’t give a full review about another part of Pegg’s book. In between chapters, Pegg has written an intentionally bad action novel with himself as a Bond-esque hero with a servant robot and all sorts of other oddities. There’s eleven or twelve chapters of it and, after reading the first two, I didn’t bother reading the rest. Whether they add to the tale or not, I don’t know.

So, sorry Simon, firstly for skipping out a bunch of chapters, and also for not being enchanted by your book. I’m still a big fan, but it’s like the old saying goes: never meet your heroes, and sometimes don’t even read their autobiography.

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