A Life in the Day: Memories of Sixties London, Lots of Writing, The Beatles and my Beloved Wife by Hunter Davies. Simon & Schuster. £16.99.
In a way, this is a sentimental memoir a man of eighty, recently widowed after more than fifty years of marriage, looks back on his long and successful life.
Hunter Davies and Margaret Forster grew up in the Carlisle of the forties and fifties. They were both children of working class parents who broke free from the life they might have been expected to lead. Margaret Forster became one of the finest novelists of her generation. Hunter has been one of the most successful of journalists, biographers and writers.
Together, their lives, the fifty-five years of their marriage, map the last half century.
In the sixties, the world seemed to be theirs. University educated, Hunter in Durham, Margaret in Oxford, and newly married, they went to live in London. They struggled to buy a house in Hampstead. Hunter worked on the Atticus column on The Sunday Times. He mixed with the capital's social elite. He was the new face, part of the huge social change that was challenging the class structure of English society.
They both wrote. Margaret's second novel, Georgy Girl, became a hit film. Hunter's novel of northern teenage life, Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, was equally successful. They suddenly found themselves with so much money that they became tax exiles, first in Malta and then in Portugal.
Hunter was riding the tide of the changing times. He was witty, with-it, regional and he was egalitarian. He was always on the lookout for the main story and the main chance. That came with the biography of the Beatles. He had the chutzpah to offer to write the only official biography. He went everywhere with them, He got to know them well. And it wasn't only the Beatles. He interviewed everyone from a very superior Noel Coward in Switzerland to a diplomatic U Thant in New York.
They had children Caitlin, Jake and, some years later, Flora. Margaret was dedicated to her writing. She always wrote in fountain pen. She wrote only one draft which she showed to no-one until it was completed. And she was dedicated to her family and committed to her domestic life. She was self-assured, out-spoken and had no time for the glitzy world that Hunter inhabited.
Hunter was affable, gregarious and inquisitive. He was the perfect social observer. He wrote biographies of Gazza, Wayne Rooney and Wainwright. He noted the rapid changes taking place in Britain. He followed his interests. He wrote about the Lake District, Hadrian's Wall, Wordsworth and George Stephenson. He did the journalism he chose. He was editor of The Sunday Times Colour Supplement his was A Life in the Day column and he wrote columns in Punch and Cumbria Life among others. There was a way in which his life became his writing and his writing became his life.
Margaret was in her thirties when she discovered she had breast cancer. She had one mastectomy and a second one a few years later. She was stoical. She did not make a fuss.
This is their life, their dazzling public life and their ordinary private life. It is told with Hunter's usual breeziness. His directness, honesty and observation and the route he has travelled make this a chronicle of our time.
But there is also a sense of the pain that can affect even the most successful of lives. Margaret's cancer returned when she was in her sixties: It meant that from then on, from 2007, I could not touch her. The slightest contact made her wince. In bed, I had to make sure I did not go near her. Holding hands was about the most she could manage without experiencing the most searing pain. Hunter Davies's wife, Margaret Forster, died nine years later on 8th February, 2016.