Devoted personal remembrance of the author’s tumultuous 28-year marriage to the brilliant, troubled British actor who died, at age 60, in 2002.
A well-know actress in her own right, Hancock was born on the Isle of Wight in 1933, nine years before the man who would become her second husband in 1974. Thaw came from working-class Manchester and never quite recovered from the early desertion of his mother. He and Hancock both trained at the prestigious, competitive Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and enjoyed illustrious separate careers. Thaw kicked off with the Royal Shakespeare Company and understudied Lawrence Olivier in 1962; he was best known in England as star of the long-running TV series Inspector Morse. The statuesque Hancock, who describes her career as “a fearful hotch-potch of the serious and trivial,” gained her best part as Madame Ranevskaya in the National Theatre production of The Cherry Orchard and was the RSC’s first female artistic director. Her memoir offers a lively testament to the changing times, from the swinging ’60s (when she wore a full-length red-fox coat and popped uppers and downers), through the violent ’70s (she grew politically active and befriended Germaine Greer), to the grim Thatcher years (obsessed with “ratings and budgets”). She first met Thaw in the mid-’60s, when he played opposite her in So What About Love? He was a hard drinker and a workaholic, often dogged by depression; Hancock frankly acknowledges that she thrived on the volatility of being with a drinker. Separated at one point, the two happily reconciled, until cancer weakened and destroyed him. The narrative is peppered with entries from Hancock’s diary of Thaw’s last days, and a concluding chapter recounts her attempt to find his lost mother. Though it vividly depicts numerous famous friends, such as Peter O’Toole, the essence is its loving, sentimental portrait of a close marital bond.
An affecting narrative of two top-notch English actors, of interest to specialized American readers who find the milieu compelling.