‘Do You Mind If I Smoke?’ by Fenella Fielding

Do You Mind if I Smoke?

Best known for her appearances in the Carry-On films, this book dips into the life and career of Fenella Fielding. Highlighting her work in radio, TV and film, it also looks at her more serious roles on the stage, such as Hedda Gabler and Colette.

I’ve been a fan of Fenella Fielding’s since I was a kid and always loved her sultry performances in Carry On Screaming and the like, but didn’t know anything of her stage career, so I was expecting something special with this book. However, even with the help of writing collaborator Simon McKay, what we’ve got is little more than a series of anecdotes that jump erratically back and forth across the decades, giving the impression of a disorganised mess. Given that the text is based on a series of audio recordings where the actress talked about anything that came into her head, it’s reasonable to expect some of her stories to come out sounding like the transcript of an impromptu interview, but it’s a bit irksome that some basic chronology wasn’t used, as it would have given the book a more balanced feel.

Having said this, there are some real gems here and the occasional insight into ‘an actor’s life’ that demonstrate that some of Ms Fielding’s fellow thespians weren’t the worthy good-guys the viewing public believed them to be – Norman Wisdom, as a case in point.

I did listen to some of the audio version of this read by Fenella herself, which is much more enjoyable, and is perhaps the best way to experience her stories. In book form, I don’t think it does justice to a lovely actress, who was known to many as England’s first lady of the double entendre.

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