Authors: Rob Brydon
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs, #Entertainment & Performing Arts
Small Man in a Book
an imprint of
Katie, Harry, Amy, Tom and George
Here is the story of some of my life. I start on the day I was born and stop thirty-five years later at the end of the year 2000, the point at which I finally had the first sniff of the ‘success’ I had been so doggedly searching for. Within this timescale I occasionally jump forward into the new millennium when I feel the stories will add to the reader’s enjoyment, and also because I’ve always been fascinated by our inability to know what lies ahead.
By the time this success arrived, I had married and had three beautiful children. As I sit here at my desk and write these words in the summer of 2011, I find I am the proud father of five children, and married – to my second wife, Claire.
This book makes no mention of my divorce and its accompanying sadness. My children are of an age where reading about the intimate details of their parents’ lives holds little appeal and great potential for social embarrassment. Coupled with this, their mother – my first wife, Martina – shares none of my desire for attention, nor my willingness to parade around for the amusement of strangers. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that she features less in these pages than her major role in my life surely warrants.
In not meeting me until 2002 Claire has ensured that she features even less, making a grand total of zero appearances in the autobiography of her husband – something that feels very wrong but, having structured the book in the way that I have, is, I’m afraid, inevitable. We have been together now for nearly ten years and, were it not for her, I doubt very much that I would have reached a position where I was asked to write an autobiography.
If that is indeed the case, then should you find the book is not to your taste, it’s really her fault, not mine.
‘Born in the USA’ (The Uplands of Swansea, actually …)
I was born on Monday the 3rd of May 1965 at a maternity home in Swansea, South Wales, which was called, rather prophetically, The Bryn. I have often wondered how differently my life might have turned out if my parents had instead chosen the nearby James Bond Home For Expectant Mothers. Bryn, as you may know, means ‘hill’ in Welsh, and the home sat on top of one such hill in Killay, the Uplands area of Swansea. Mum and Dad – Joy and Howard – were just twenty and twenty-one years old at the time and had arrived there the previous evening after the contractions began while they were at home watching the television. These were the dark days before Sky+ and so on Mum’s insistence, and despite the lengthening and by now rather painful contractions, they waited until
had finished before making a move.
Just like Dr Richard Kimble, I was keen to escape and by the time the programme was over I could wait no longer. Mum waddled out of the house, and squeezed into the car, which Dad then steered over to Swansea. On arrival at The Bryn, Mum’s waters had still not broken; they did so as the midwife was examining her. My mother was the midwife’s first delivery after a lengthy period of maternity leave, and the time away from the job had softened the poor woman sufficiently that when the moment arrived and the levee finally broke, on witnessing the deluge, she promptly passed out. That’s right, a midwife passing out at the sight of someone’s waters breaking. Not wishing to appear rude my father followed suit. Bang, down he went, leaving my mother staring at the two of them in a heap on the floor. The delivery doctor – an older and, in my mother’s recollection, quite stern gentleman – had to administer to both the fainters before he could turn his attention to the job at hand. He guided Dad out to another room, where he might regain his composure, and then two hours later, shortly after twenty past five in the morning, returned with the words, ‘It’s a boy, and it works …’ This last part of his news a reference to the fact that I had urinated on him in a most enthusiastic fashion as soon as I was out and into the world. On leaving the room he turned back to my dad and, in a glorious example of the politically incorrect 1960s, gave the following advice with regard to my mother, ‘Keep them pregnant and barefoot; they won’t go very far.’
After coming in to meet his son and check on the well-being of his wife, Dad returned home to Baglan to spread the news, full of pride at having passed out only once. Mum stayed at the home for a whole week, in her own little room, surrounded by flowers and cards, her only disturbance being the sound of one baby in particular who could be heard screaming at the top of its lungs night and day from the nursery where all the newborns were herded together to give their novice parents a break. From the comfort of her bed she couldn’t help feeling sorry for the mother of this noisy little child who was surely in for a rough ride once she got home. On her departure Mum received the splendid news that the child in question was my good self, her little cherub, her firstborn. It was decided that I was suffering from colic, and as mother and child left the home we did so with the advice that I would benefit, even at this young age, from mashed-up Farley’s Rusks to settle my poor little stomach.
As a baby, shortly after stumbling across my dad’s merkin.
The pattern was set, and Mum swears I didn’t sleep for the next five years. She and my poor sleep-deprived father would take it in turns to walk me around the bedroom on their shoulder while they sang in what Dylan Thomas described as the slow, black, crowblack darkness of the Welsh night, waiting for my body to go limp and my breathing to slide into the telltale rhythm of sleep. Mum’s repertoire consisted of ‘Lili Marlene’, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and the now-forgotten song that sounded like the set-up to a Jackie Mason gag, ‘The Three Jews’ (‘Once upon a time there were three Jews / Once upon a time there were three Jews / Juh-ewuh, Jew, Jew, Jew / Juh-ewuh, Jew, Jew, Jew / Once upon a time there were three Jews …’), all the while patting my back in rhythm with the song. Dad opened his set with the first verse of ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’ repeated ad infinitum before moving on to ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away’. There he was, circling the room in the gloom, a lone desperate voice in the wilderness.
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
Crucifixion, while an extreme and (one would hope) last resort, must surely have crossed his mind.
We lived at Woodside, a large manor house in Baglan, just next to Port Talbot in South Wales. It belonged to my maternal grandparents – Bob and Margaret – who had bought the place, kept the best bit for themselves and converted the rest into flats to provide an income. Nan and Grandpa had one side of the ground floor; Mum, Dad and I occupied the other, while the upper floors were taken by a variety of tenants. Most of my memories are of being in my grandparents’ part of the house or in the large sloping garden, which wrapped round one side of it. It was a magnificent, imposing house with a long winding driveway and grand steps sweeping up to a veranda and large central door. Mature rhododendron bushes in which I would climb and play at Robin Hood and Tarzan bordered the driveway; there was also a haystack along the way in which I would leap from one bale to another and slide down the gaps in between. Behind and around the house were fields, with a small farm just off to the side, and the whole thing sat high up on a mountain from which it was possible to see the coast at Aberavon, while beyond and off to the right lay the shimmering excitement of Swansea.