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BOOKENDS: Inspiration for a cult hero

This is an odd book: the exhaustive biography of a complete nobody. Vivian Mackerrell was the primary inspiration for the cult that is Withnail. In that, at least, he doesn’t disappoint.

6 November 2010

10:00 AM

6 November 2010

10:00 AM

Vivian and I Colin Bacon

Quartet, 12

This is an odd book: the exhaustive biography of a complete nobody. Vivian Mackerrell was the primary inspiration for the cult that is Withnail. In that, at least, he doesn’t disappoint.

This is an odd book: the exhaustive biography of a complete nobody. Vivian Mackerrell was the primary inspiration for the cult that is Withnail. In that, at least, he doesn’t disappoint. Mackerrell emerges from Colin Bacon’s eulogy, Vivian and I (Quartet, £12), as a rakish Charles Pooter, sunk by alcoholic degeneracy at the age of 24, though he staggered on gamely for another 30 years.


The paucity of Mackerrell’s life leaves Bacon to indulge in bawdy nostalgia about the Sixties. Turns out it was just like The Rachel Papers: lots of jives, more dope and endless fumbling, which is hardly surprising, given the participants’ unsteady condition.

Mackerrell’s dissipated life was defined by the talent of others. He lived with Bruce Robinson, writer and director of Withnail and I. David Dundas, Lesley-Anne Down and Olivia Hussey were close friends. He was cast by Mick Jagger in a film co-starring Marianne Faithful and Murray Melvin; the cast lolled about on location in India, dreaming great dreams under a miasma of hallucinogens. He also appeared in provincial rep with Ian McKellan, Edith MacArthur and Leonard Rossiter.

All testify to Mackerrell’s languid charm and quickening beauty; Paul Smith even admits that his latest collection was inspired by ‘Vivian’s whole demeanour’. Bruce Robinson reacted to news of the biography by saying: ‘Someone should write one’. There was evidently more to this personality than the grotesque tragedy that is Withnail.      


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