Jack Rosenthal's Last Act

Starring: Stephen Mangan and Maureen Lipman
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 4056 7729 5
ISBN-10: 1 40567 729 5
Available 07 May 2007

Jack Rosenthal had always resisted writing an autobiography, until he hit on an original way of writing it: it would be as a screenplay, with himself as the central character, the storyline that of his own life, the supporting cast drawn from the many wonderful and sometimes eccentric people who touched, shaped and shared that life.

Jack Rosenthal's Last Act was originally broadcast as four thirty-minute transmissions on Radio 4, and is an adaptation of the screenplay published by Robson Books. It also features Rosenthal's wife, Maureen Lipman, playing herself.

Rosenthal was the author of Bar Mitzvah Boy, The Evacuees, London's Burning, The Knowledge and P'tang Yang, Kipperbang, a writer who uniquely won three successive BAFTA Awards. In this 2-dics CD collection, the story moves from Manchester in the '30s - via school, evacuation, university, the navy, the early days of Granada TV (he wrote 129 pioneering episodes of Coronation Street), the Busby Boys, marriage and life with Lipman, fatherhood, writing the famous plays, working with Barbra Streisand - to Muswell Hill in the '90s.

There are so many important things that shaped his life and career. These include the Munich air disaster of February 1958 that claimed the lives of the Manchester United football team - nicknamed the Busby Boys - along with a number of supporters and journalists.

It also examines the fact that Tony Warren, Coronation Street's creator, was Rosenthal's replacement at Granada. Rosenthal makes a decision that changes his career, when he rings Warren the day after the first episode of Coronation Street is broadcast. Warren has only written 13 episodes and Granada think it may run beyond this. Warren asks Rosenthal if he fancies writing some episodes.

We also get a glimpse of his first marriage disastrous marriage to Maxine. In a great comedy twist, Rosenthal doesn't really concentrate much on her, and so simply describes her as out of focus and blurry, like a not very important character in a book. He never did get to the bottom of whether Maxine had a quick affair with an old army friend of his.

There are also great comedy moments, including his meeting with Michael Winner, where he is embarrassed to be pitching a movie off the top of his head and his first meeting with Lipman. There is a great story that Lipman tells where she played a practical joke with Rosenthal's crossword while he slept on a plane journey.

He explains how he was, for six months, Coronation Street's reluctant producer in late '60s. And, how he was responsible for ensuring that the wedding of Elsie Tanner and her US master sergeant went ahead. Apparently Pat Phoenix didn't want to go through with it at the last minute.

There is also a great story about how he ended up accidentally sneaking into bed with Lipman's father and, thinking it was Lipman, giving him a quick cuddle and a kiss. There's also the nightmare that was working with Barbra Streisand, and his ABC meeting where he has enough of the bullsh*t and tells them he only "does elbows" in a bid to quickly get out of the meeting. This nonsensical phrase is picked up by the TV executive who goes crazy and offers Rosenthal's agent any fee if he will "do elbows" in a project with them.

From start to finish, this is an entertaining collection. Whether you knew of Rosenthal before, or have never heard his name before (I'm sure there are some people out there) you'll love this touching tale as told in his, and Lipman's, own inimitable style.

Lipman wraps things up on a high - and no doubt in the way Rosenthal would have wanted to be remembered. With a great joke, that Rosenthal told her when he was close to death, they leave us smiling.

Darren Rea

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