Under The Microscope: My Life, By Dave Spikey

Book review by Steve Bennett

As warm and uncomplicated as his stage act, Dave Spikey’s memoirs are a breezy read, but though they are frequently entertaining, they are just as often frustrating in their superficiality.

If it’s possible to have a generic childhood, Spikey had it. The early chapters of Under The Microscope will resonate with most people over 40, as he shares memories of playing What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?, of mums treating every accident with butter, and of sexual awakenings via the Grattan catalogue.

It reads exactly like a nostalgic stand-up routine, reliant on the audience resonating with the references, rather than revealing much about yourself, which is strange for an autobiography. The feeling is reinforced with the bits of ‘what’s the deal with…’ type asides that pepper the text, as he takes apart phrases like ‘best thing since sliced bread’, ‘cheap as chips’ or ‘the three Rs’, for rather strained comic effect. Why break off from your reminiscences to ponder ‘Um Bongo Um Bongo They Drink It In The Congo? I bet they don’t…’ for a footnote.

As Under The Microscope goes on, Spikey – who was born David Bramwell 59 years ago – thankfully breaks the habit of always doing a comedy ‘bit’, and lets the natural wit of his life emerge.

After his A-levels, he landed a job as a lab technician in Bolton General Hospital, and the mordant humour and inappropriate practical jokes they played on each other in the pathology department. Sickest of the lot would be with what they did with excess lab mice: stick them in the nozzle of a fire extinguisher, push the trigger, and use the poor blighters as jet-propelled balls in an ad-hoc, and understandably bloody, game of cricket. No wonder Spikey became such a devoted supporter of animal charities in later life.

No other anecdote is as gruesome as that, but his stories from this time, and as he moved up into the haemotology department are as blackly comic as you could hope, and told with the skill of a sitcom writer. Likewise, his early days in comedy – awkwardly straddling the working men’s club circuit and the alternative scene, and not quite fitting into either – is nicely told. It was those experiences, of course, which informed Phoenix Nights, and this book is likely to have you scurrying for the DVD again as it reignites fond memories of the show.

There’s a flick of the fall-out he had with Peter Kay over the series, and who took the credit, but he doesn’t go much beyond a few pointed comments (the best of which comes when he was refused permission to release the songs he performed as Phoenix compere Jerry: ‘It wasn’t possible,’ he writes. ‘Although they are available on a CD called The Best of Peter Kay So Far’). Similarly, he accepts that he behaved badly during his first marriage, but skips over it. This is not a tell-all autobiography by any means.

Once Spikey achieves success, the book gets scrappy again, with chapters explaining how fantastic it was to work on all the shows he did – even Chain Letters – and several that read like Christmas round-robins, explaining what happened to all the animals he kept, or his domestic arrangements, all inconsequential, and again embellished with gags. It reinforces his ‘ordinary bloke’ persona, though. And there is a particularly touching chapter at the end of the book when he describes his late brother Pete’s health problems.

Spikey’s fans will presumably love the homely humour and (largely) jaunty tone of the book; while for others it may prove a mixed bag. But it’s an enjoyable Christmas read with no greater ambitions to be anything more.

  • Dave Spikey: Under The Microscope is published by Michael O'Mara Books, priced £20. Click here to buy from Amazon for £8.40

Published: 1 Dec 2010

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