Alec Guinness got off on the wrong foot. Like a great many actors he had an unsuccessful childhood. In adolescence he tried to be someone else and after a time succeeded. He never forgave his mother for not telling him who his father was. He never forgave his mother - period. She did, however, care for Alec after her fashion and brought him up and sent him to boarding school, and even for a while provided him with a stepfather, who from time to time held him upside down over bridges, threatening to drop him into the running water to convince him that it was in his best interest to persuade his mother to disgorge part of his patrimony. The patrimony came from a mysterious source. Alec was convinced that part of it was a gold watch but never succeeded in obtaining possession from the solicitor who handed out the funds which were supposed to pay for his schooling and indeed did - until he was 18, when everything stopped except his continuing search for a father. His mother emerges as a feckless but not altogether unlikeable lady who conditioned her child to moonlight flits from hotels in the Cromwell Road, and who was constantly explaining to his chums, and everyone else, that she had mislaid her handbag and was short of a fiver. On one occasion, Guinness came home on leave to find Mother Courage had burgled his one-room flat and left a neat docket of pawn tickets on the mantelpiece.
LRB 5 December 1985 | PDF Download