Book Review: Watching War Films With My Dad by Al Murray

Al Murray

Al Murray has always had a thing about the military. There is, of course, the Pub Landlord's wobbly grasp of European history, but before that Murray used to do a precision-tooled sound effects act in which he impersonated various machine guns and rifles. And before that, as Watching War Films With My Dad reveals, his childhood was filled with typical WW2 ephemera, from Airfix models to Sunday afternoon viewings of A Bridge Too Far with his father.

This all-star film forms the spine of this entertaining, enlightening memoir. Murray's father was in the army and knew men who had fought at Arnhem so couldn't watch the movie without screaming at the factual inaccuracies. Murray has inevitably inherited the movie pedant gene and now, as he reveals, has to fight the urge to scream at the screen when watching war films with his own sprogs.

If you are looking for a book about the Pub Landlord or a book full of Landlord-y routines you won't find either here. There are plenty of comic asides but this is more like the Campaign for Real Al. On the other hand, if you are looking for a traditional autobiography you won't find that here either. Murray thinks he is too dull for an autobiography, which probably means he is more psychologically interesting than the swathe of comedians churning out books all about their early years. 

You do, however, get nuggets of autobiography and they are lovely ones. The chapters charting his fixation with Airfix models and Action Man will probably resonate with any boy who grew up in the pre-Playstation age. There isn't a lot about his education, apart from a few references to going to boarding school and a nice bit about being led astray at Oxford by Richard Herring and Stewart Lee. It would have been nice if Murray had said more about his early formative experiences rather than just dismiss them by saying he was a bit of a nerdy swot. 

In fact there isn't really a lot about war films either. I thought this book might consist of a chapter on The Colditz Story, a chapter on The Great Escape etc, etc, but it is much better and broader than that. Mixing his hobby with his day job Murray has made TV programmes about wartime events and Germany and been invited to various uniform-related functions and he talks about those with passion and insight. He has even flown in a Spitfire and describes the visceral, vomit-inducing thrill so well you will think you are about to vomit too.

The chapter that mixes Murray's two strands best is the one on bravery, in which he does discuss his comedy career and explains how he despairs at people saying that he is "brave" to perform onstage. It's people like Charles Upham who are really brave, says Murray. Upham picked up two VCs for showing a ridiculous amount of courage against the enemy and all while suffering from dysentery. Murray mentions a  fellow comedian who has been known to shit himself but discreetly lets him - or her - remain anonymous.

Footnotes - thought not as many as in Stewart Lee's big book - add extra comic levity along the way, helping to make this a fun read as well as an informative one. Murray can certainly write well. Maybe I'm just nosey but it would be great if a publisher could now lob enough wads of cash in his direction to persuade him to write a conventional autobiography. In the meantime though, Watching War Films With My Dad will more than suffice.

Buy Watching War Films With My Dad here.

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