As a youngster – especially one bitten by the acting-bug and still dreaming of a career in the spotlight – Alec Guinness was my greatest theatrical hero, so – in addition to a couple of replies to fan letters, I have signed copies of his three autobiographical volumes, of which A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, 1996-97 was (as the title suggests) the last.
In truth, I only twice saw Guinness on stage: in 1971, as the irascible blind barrister in John Mortimer's A Voyage round My Father with Jeremy Brett; and, two years later, wickedly funny as Doctor Wickstead in Alan Bennett's raucous farce, Habeas Corpus – that's Sir Alec in his deadpan comic performance in that play on the book's cover.
In truth, my infatuation with Guinness's work was mostly to do with his astonishing chameleon roles for the cinema: his two Dickensian turns as Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations and Fagin in Oliver Twist, Kind Hearts and Coronets (no fewer than eight separate roles), The Lavender Hill Mob (teamed up with Stanley Holloway), The Man in the White Suit, The Card, The Ladykillers (perhaps his funniest role as the sinister Professor Marcus with his ghastly leer and tombstone teeth), The Bridge on the River Kwai (as the stiff-upper-lip Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson), The Horse's Mouth, Tunes of Glory, Lawrence of Arabia (an inscrutable Prince Faisal), Doctor Zhivago, Cromwell (the ill-fated King Charles I), Scrooge (as Marley's grey-green Ghost), Brother Sun and Sister Moon in which he gave a cameo performance as Pope Innocent III and, in contrast, in the title role of Hitler: The Last Ten Days –– I am, of course, talking here about an era prior to Star Wars!
Only later did I discover just what, a splendid writer Guinness was: a witty – but never bitchy – theatrical raconteur with a cunning gift for creating unforgettable pen portraits that are as affectionate as they are candid.
But the only reason for choosing this particular volume today is because it is, as far as I'm aware, the only signed book in my library with an inscription that is dated 1st April!