Teenage Revolution: Growing Up In The 80s book review

Alan Davies charts his youthful experiences in Teenage Revolution: Growing Up In The 80s. Here’s Louisa’s review of funny and self-effacing book...

If my own teenage revolution hadn’t been so tame, then maybe I’d have acquired the pharmaceutical knowledge needed to determine exactly what has been used to spike the water on BBC comedy panel shows of late. Side effects include: dilated pupils, a light sweat, the compulsion to nostalgically navel gaze into where it all began, and a book deal.

Alan Davies’ Teenage Revolution is just one of a slew of memoirs released in the last year or so by Stephen Fry, Phil Jupitus, Jo Brand, Jack Dee, Frankie Boyle, Richard Herring and soon, Michael McIntyre. Not strictly memoirs, but still present on the shelves, are also offerings from Dara Ó Briain and Stewart Lee.

In Teenage Revolution, Davies takes an episodic approach to the decade of his life between the years of 1978-1988. Organising each chapter under the name of a hero from his adolescence, he combines anecdotes about worshipping Paul Weller and driving a 1275 GT Mini into the back of Loughton Co-Op with social history light on Greenham Common, race relations and the miners’ strikes.

Out of character for a stand-up comedian, the book’s hero worship structure moves Davies out of the spotlight and into the wings. Perhaps less out of character for a stand-up with such typically English charm is the book’s underlying sense of embarrassment at being seen to take itself, or himself, too seriously.

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Using his teenage heroes and events of 1980s Britain as cover, Davies sidesteps the fact that he is actually writing a (whisper it) celebrity memoir. He takes on the persona of a likeable and funny sociology teacher telling kids about life before iPods and the Internet in order to avoid the trappings of the genre’s usual Class A confessions and C-lister spats.

This is really no bad thing. Davies is well aware that the relative privilege of his middle class suburban childhood hadn’t provided him with the material for another Angela’s Ashes, and even if it had, something tells you he would probably still have spent his autobiography taking the mick out of his own prattish adolescence rather than laying himself bare. 

Sadly losing his mother to Leukaemia at the age of six, Davies could well have strayed into tears of a clown territory, but instead chooses to keep things light. Paeans to Debbie Harry, Neil Kinnock and fag-smoking, model-dating 1970s motorbike champ, Barry Sheene, keep the early stages of Teenage Revolution pretty much on a Smash Hits tip.

That’s not to say more serious subject matter isn’t covered. A brief schoolboy flirtation with the national front is quickly replaced by membership in every just about every 80s liberal campaign that had a badge and a slogan.

As the years pass, Davies’ early passion for American cop shows makes way for earnest support of anti-Nazi, anti-racism and anti-vivisection leagues. So far, so right-on.

His attempt to navigate the frustratingly muddy waters of 80s campus politics brings a smile or two, as does his account of spending his time at Greenham Common wimmin’s camp trying to get off with a girl he fancied.

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Released in hardback last September under the title My Favourite People And Me 1978-1988, the paperback version of Davies’ book was timed to coincide with the airing of an accompanying 3-part series on Channel 4. With the addition of interviews and news footage, the documentary overlaps some of the national events that form the backdrop to Shane Meadow’s fictional This Is England ’86 four-parter, but is a world away in terms of class, geography and grit.

Davies’ show cherry picks from his book, occupying a middle ground in TV documentaries, with more integrity than another I Heart The 80s clone, but obviously less scholarship than something like Andrew Marr’s 2007 A History Of Modern Britain.

Never much of a scholar by his own admission, Davies comes across in the book as clever, funny and self-effacing. Written in a conversational, light-hearted style that simultaneously celebrates and sends up his youthful pretensions, Teenage Revolution‘s trip down memory lane will be enjoyed by fans of Davies’ stand-up and QI persona, especially those who were there the first time around.

Teenage Revolutionis out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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3 out of 5