“Renée Houston” is well written, well-researched and well worth reading.
Brooke’s well researched and written biography does much to bring back to life a host of theatrical characters, most of all Renée herself, who with all her human failings was always a star. It’s an engaging account that will appeal to those who enjoy reading about theatre life in novels, such as Daphne Du Maurier’s The Parasites and Marina Endicott’s The Little Shadows, as well as those who want to see behind the scenes in theatres or film studios; indeed any one curious about a lost world that is now just out of reach but has much to tell us about what we still prize today, the joy of being entertained. It’s there, too, in musicals like Gypsy, Chicago and Cabaret, but the world that Brooke recreates has added appeal to those who can identify in this talented Scotswoman something peculiar to the national character, that blend of feistiness and cheek masking a fear of loneliness and rejection.
MEDIA EDUCATION JOURNAL, The journal of the Association for Media Education in Scotland, (Full Review: Issue 63, Summer 2018) Click here for AMES
This book is scrupulously compiled. It will be invaluable to future historians of the variety theatre and a fascinating read for those with interest in the unique form of entertainment – its charm, style and effect.
Brian O’Gorman (The British Music Hall Society)
Well done, Miranda, for bringing to us the story of Renée Houston and her family.
Spirit of the Irresistibles is Miranda Brooke’s first biography (as well as the first biography of Renée Houston). Her chapters retelling this performer’s youth and variety career are a delight to read.
“To do for Renée Houston what Richard Ellmann did for Oscar Wilde is rather eccentric on one level but then who’s to say who deserves such a thing and who doesn’t. I can only conclude that the author is quite fascinating to have chosen to do so. It does make this book completely unique and perhaps one of the best-documented personal journeys of a music hall star you’ll ever find..
Renée Houston: Spirit of the Irresistibles
A book about Renée
‘Watch out – she’ll skin you to death’ – her fellow comics say. A revue artiste from Glasgow is catapulted into the limelight in the 1920s. In 1965, in the all-women show ‘Petticoat Line’ she’s on the airwaves again, gaining fans among a new generation. Unselfconscious and downright unpredictable, her name is Renée Houston and she’s the original Loose Woman, complete with sauciness and sparkling wit.
But why is she so infuriating at times? What about the decisions she’d taken years before and the ghosts of the past leaving things forever unresolved? What’s hiding beneath the mask? She’s not the ‘cuddly’ sort but beyond the brittleness there’s a tough love and a loyal supportiveness.
She and her sister Billie form a unique act on a comedy stage that’s electrifying, unforgiving and reliant on the stripped-down essentials of talent and personality. A manic energy is required. Billie’s tour de force is male impersonation. Renée’s the perfect clown – the unsung female Chaplin beloved of émigré producers. In films she can smash vases, fight duels with pokers, shred enemies with a word and hit the spot with a devastatingly good character study. The boys in the studio orchestra whistle as she records her BBC show on air dressed only in her negligee but she’s also contradictory: critical of the way that films and television shows are changing in the Sixties and Seventies. ‘Bring back chastity belts,’ she says, then appears in two Polanski films.
Here lies the actress’s pioneering film, television and radio work, volatile relationships with directors, personal heart-aches and survival. Renée’s strong personality and star quality shine through. Here she is running in her bra and knickers through the streets of Edinburgh when a hundred young men turn up outside her dressing room to abduct her. She’s hoisted up on the shoulders of Glasgow gangsters as they celebrate after the war. She’s arriving for work on a fork-lift truck.
Published by Tempest Time
© Miranda Brooke, 2016
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About the Author
Miranda Brooke is a UK-based historian with a knowledge of British history, theatre, and literature.