If I could choose, where would I wish to be? Childhood."" So stage/film actor McCowen (Hadrian VII, Saint Mark's Gospel, Travels With My Aunt) has returned to his childhood--and very young manhood--for this half-nostalgic, half-psychological quick dip into the origins of his passionately pursued career. Oldest child of a Tunbridge Wells pram-shop owner (upright family) and an exsoubrette (bohemian family), young Alec early on felt the need to ""disguise myself""--afraid of his own personality, afraid of not being his father's ideal ""real boy,"" afraid of sex (""For years I thought my powers of erection were unique""). So this led to acting, chiefly playing ""the part of an average schoolboy"" to please his father, whom he saw as a perfect man (""he gave me no peace"") despite his moodiness and eccentricities--like a fondness for bravura flatulence. (""My father once farted 'God Save the King'--up to 'Send him victorious'."") And at 16 Alec was already totally, naively committed to theater, stumbling right in and out of the Royal Academy, then on to learn-by-doing stints in repertory and on tour in India (with time out for a trek up Mt. Everest with a 50-year-old actress known as ""The Tank""). And McCowen ends this brisk mini-memoir with a 1948 stop in N.Y., seeing Brando and Tandy in Streetcar Named Desire, only then beginning to realize what acting is--an art form that goes beyond ""an escape to an artificial world"" where he could conquer his loved, hated, all-powerful father. Episodic and fleeting--the feeling is that of a short-story--but honest and clear; more of interest as testimony on a father-son relationship than as a getting-started-in-theater reminiscence.