Alec Guinness. The Authorised Biography. Simon & Schuster. London, 2003

cover alecguinnessAlec Guinness, one of the pre-eminent English-speaking actors of his generation, was the illegitimate son of a flighty, alcoholic mother who refused to name his father. She gave him the name Guinness, and members of the brewing dynasty later liked to claim kinship, but it is more probable that his natural father was a Scottish banker, Andrew Geddes, who had been a guest of the Guinness family at the Cowes regatta at around the time of Alec’s conception.

Living as a child in over thirty different locations, Guinness received a private education. While working in an advertising agency he trained as an actor and was given the part of Oscric in Hamlet by John Gielgud. His talent was quickly recognised on both the stage and the screen. Under the direction of David Lean, he played Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations, Fagin in Oliver Twist and later Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Quai. He played leading roles in a number of Ealing comedies such as Kind Hearts & Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Guinness married Merula Salaman and they had one son. Commissioned in the Royal Navy, he commanded a landing-craft in the Mediterranean, and was separated from wife and child for over two years. During this period Guinness discovered his hitherto latent homosexuality which throughout his life he concealed from the outside world. At one time a devout Anglican, he was received after the war into the Catholic Church. The tensions between his faith and the strict morality it enjoined; his love for his wife Merula; his homosexual alter ego; and the growing isolation that came with fame created a character as subtle and complex as any of the roles he played.

‘It may sound hyperbolic to suggest that a `mere` showbiz biography could be a deeply intelligent, acute piece of work, full of humanity and compassion…but that is what Piers Paul Read achieves in his magnificent Alec Guinness’.
Frank McLynn, Independent on Sunday
‘A splendid biography… Read gives us an astonishingly moving portrait of a very complex man, his loving marriage, and his quest for spiritual solace. It is a warts-and-all portrait but Read effortlessly invokes compassion for his subject’.
Keith Baxter, Spectator
‘Piers Paul Read’s perceptive study about this much admired and most complicated of actors falls into that rare category of exceptional theatre biographies’.
Patrick Garland, The Oldie
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read’.
Christopher Silvester, Sunday Times
‘A searching and moving book that is as much about Guinness’s spiritual journey, sexual ambivalence and gift for friendship as about his stage and screen triumphs’.
Michael Billington, Country Life.
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