Book Review: A Class Act by Rob Beckett

I have been a fan of the Parenting Hell podcast that Rob Beckett presents with fellow comedian Josh Widdicombe since it started – and so have been more than aware that Josh and Rob had both written books. I LOVED Josh’s book (and it became a Sunday Times bestseller) so Rob has got a lot to live up to!!

Here’s the blurb for Rob’s book – whose full title is ‘A Class Act: Life as a working-class man in a middle-class world’:

“Rob Beckett never seems to fit in. At work, in the middle-class world of television and comedy, he’s the laddie, cockney geezer, but to his mates down the pub in south-east London, he’s the theatrical one, a media luvvie. Even at home, his wife and kids are posher than him.
In this hilarious exploration of class, Rob compares his life growing up as a working-class kid to the life he lives now, trying to understand where he truly belongs.
Will he always be that fat kid who was told he’d never be a high-flyer? Why does he feel ashamed if he does anything vaguely middle class? Will he ever favour craft beer over lager? What happens if you eat 50 olives and drink two bottles of champagne? Why is ‘boner’ such a funny word?
In search of answers, Rob relives the moments in his life when the class divide couldn’t be more obvious. Whether it’s the gig for rich bankers that was worse than Matt Hancock hosting the GQ Men of the Year Awards, turning up at a swanky celebrity house party with a blue bag of cans from the offy or identifying the root of his ambition as a childhood incident involving soiled pants and Jurassic Park, Rob digs deep.
A Class Act is his funny, candid and often moving account of what it feels like to be an outsider and the valuable (sometimes humiliating) life lessons he’s learned along the way.”

I really enjoyed this from the start. You can totally hear Rob’s ‘voice’ (even more if you’re listening to the audio book I guess – and Rob revealed on the podcast that he had a panic attack whilst recording the audio book – so I’m a bit sad I’d already pre ordered the hard back – as I would have liked to have listened to try and hear if I could tell exactly when the breakdown happened!!!)

Very early on he mentions going to Centerparcs in a Qashqai with a roofbox – which was ridiculously exciting. This is because we were at Centerparcs at the same time in April! We were waiting to check in – and my husband said – ‘that bloke looks like Rob Beckett – but he’s driving a bashed up Qashqai, so it can’t be’ – but we soon realised it was, and proceeded to spot him around CP for the rest of the week!! Admittedly this doesn’t quite beat our holiday celeb spot from a few years before when we were staying in the same hotel as Lionel Messi and his family- but is still up there.

Aside from holidays there are other similarities – my husband is very much from a working class background. He got free school meals at school, and wore hand me downs from the older kids on their street. He has no academic qualifications – but hard graft has resulted in ‘a Range Rover and a gold Rolex’ (although admittedly the gold Rolex is a platinum Brietling – but that doesn’t align with the aspirational story in Rob’s book!!)) My upbringing was slightly more middle class. I went to grammar school and then university and qualified as a chartered accountant. Our kids definitely get the best of both worlds – although are all private school w*nkers now, although not sure if any of them will do the private school rite of passage of an Edinburgh Fringe Festival?!?

This is not strictly a chronological autobiography – but lots of different aspects of Rob’s life are discussed. Some of the chapters are Christmas, Family Networks, Jobs and Confidence – amongst many others. All of them reference Rob’s life growing up – and now – and compare and contrast.

One highlight of the book is the photos of Rob’s life to date and his hilarious captions – they’re just brilliant (and I’m glad I got the hard copy book for those alone!) It’s also nice to see Rob and his mate Lloyd Griffiths have been out getting absolutely bladdered for years – not just at the Euros earlier this summer!!

Whilst a lot of the book is really funny and self deprecating humour from Rob – there are also some really moving and emotional parts – particularly how lonely he was when out in Australia. The Howat family who took him under their wing were awesome. Whilst this was at the start of Rob’s career – there have been other wobbles, even recently when he was on the road in South Africa with Romesh Ranganathan (a programme we watched and thoroughly enjoyed – and at no point would have suspected Rob was having anything other than the time of his life) – and it’s really interesting (and I think would be helpful for people) to hear about a successful ‘lad’ comic talking about his mental health battles. I’m so pleased Rob has Lou and his daughters to look out for him now – and that the pandemic has helped Rob with his anxiety. (Wow, this book review has taken an emotional turn!)

There are some brilliant name drops – Jimmy Carr’s house party anecdote being an absolute favourite – and I really feel like I know more about Rob and his background now.

I’m delighted that Rob’s book has done as well as Josh’s – and they’re both Sunday Times best sellers – I feel very proud of ‘my podcasting boys’!!

Book Review: Watching Neighbours Twice A Day… How 90s TV (Almost) Prepared Me For Life by Josh Widdicombe

I would have been able to pick Josh Widdicombe out in a line up for a fair few years – but I only feel like I’ve got to know him intimately since listening to the twice weekly podcast he does with Rob Beckett. This started during the pandemic as ‘Lockdown Parenting Hell’ and has subsequently been rebranded ‘Parenting Hell’. I’m almost a decade older than Josh (so my brain’s Broom Cupboard default presenter is more Philip Schofield than Andi Peters) – and my kids are older than his kids too – but I still find the podcast very entertaining. When Josh and Rob were discussing their forthcoming books, I immediately parted with hard cash to pre order them. (To be honest, I checked out NetGalley first – but neither of them featured – but as the amazing podcast content is free, I didn’t begrudge actually paying for books for once!)

Here’s the blurb about Rob’s book:

‘This is a book about growing up in the ’90s told through the thing that mattered most to me, the television programmes I watched. For my generation television was the one thing that united everyone. There were kids at my school who liked bands, kids who liked football and one weird kid who liked the French sport of petanque, however, we all loved Gladiators, Neighbours and Pebble Mill with Alan Titchmarsh (possibly not the third of these).’
In his first memoir, Josh Widdicombe tells the story of a strange rural childhood, the kind of childhood he only realised was weird when he left home and started telling people about it. From only having four people in his year at school, to living in a family home where they didn’t just not bother to lock the front door, they didn’t even have a key.
Using a different television show of the time as its starting point for each chapter Watching Neighbours Twice a Day… is part-childhood memoir, part-comic history of ’90s television and culture. It will discuss everything from the BBC convincing him that Michael Parkinson had been possessed by a ghost, to Josh’s belief that Mr Blobby is one of the great comic characters, to what it’s like being the only vegetarian child west of Bristol.
It tells the story of the end of an era, the last time when watching television was a shared experience for the family and the nation, before the internet meant everyone watched different things at different times on different devices, headphones on to make absolutely sure no one else could watch it with them.”

I was super excited when the book landed on my doormat – and even got goosebumps from reading the chapter titles (which are all named after different 90s TV programmes) – as they brought back lots of memories.

You can hear Josh’s voice in the book (and no, I didn’t have the audiobook on at the same time) it is just written in his distinctive style. It is so well observed and frequently had me laughing out loud (and then having to explain to my husband what I’d found so funny).

I could quote endlessly from the book – but won’t as you should really buy it yourself – however to read on page 138 about ‘that bloke who played Boycie in Only Fools and Horses‘ – mentioned twice, on the day he died, did feel a bit surreal. I am in no way blaming Josh for John Challis’s death I should add!

In another ‘small world’, Josh refers to supporting England at a major football tournament as a ‘doomed relationship’ in the chapter about Euro 1996 – which is somewhat ironic as I watched the England v Switzerland opening game on the floor of Bangkok airport, waiting to fly home from the honeymoon of my first marriage (it hadn’t failed at that point – we lasted another few years, so longer than Terry Venables as England Manager at least).

I was waiting for the time when Josh would mention Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett as examples of people on TV you might not be able to stand – as he’d mentioned it on the ‘Parenting Hell’ podcast – so I felt part of an ‘in-joke’ when I read that. Not that you need to be a podcast subscriber or listener to find the book entertaining – it totally stands on its own two feet.

I read all the way to the end of the acknowledgements (my neck is stiffer than Beckett’s – another podcast reference, I am such a fangirl) and the part written to Josh’s wife and kids made me cry! I hadn’t even had wine!

It was really interesting hearing about Josh’s childhood growing up in Devon – and I loved hearing about his Grandmother Gin in particular. But then I always do love a gin…….

This is a brilliant book – funny, clever, well written, brilliantly observed and a roller coaster of reminiscing with a dollop of popular culture from the 2000s onwards thrown in too. I would guess I’m near the top age range of people who would adore it – but there will always be outliers. A brilliant potential Christmas present for anyone aged 35-50 I reckon.

Well done Josh – now to await Rob’s book with an equal level of excitement!!!