Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes, abridged by Sara Davies

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Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 13-17 January 2014
Set in and around the Notting Hill and Soho areas at the time of the 1958 riots, Absolute Beginners is a cult classic portraying the hedonistic life of teenagers, of jazz clubs, smoky coffee bars, cheap rooms, making a quick buck while experimenting with sex and drugs.  Meanwhile the Teddy Boys are staging gang warfare across the city - a conflict which intensifies when they turn against the African-Caribbeans.  As a depiction of a world breaking free of social and moral constraints characteristic of the Fifties, and looking towards the Swinging Sixties, MacInnes' novel cannot be bettered.
In Joel MacCormack's reading, however, Absolute Beginners also came across as a story of social growth.  The teenage narrator began the story as someone out for what he could get; to make money, pull as many girls as possible, and further his career as a freelance photographer.  It seemed there was nothing he wouldn't do in pursuit of self-advancement - even consorting with the Mayfair set in the hope of obtaining lucrative commissions.  As the story unfolded, however, so the narrators values changed - a trip up the Thames forced him into caring for his sick father, while the discovery that his beloved girlfriend Suzette had married for money made him think a little more deeply about how to keep a relationship going.  In the end his father passed away; and the narrator discovered to his surprise that the "old man" loved his son much more than the narrator had ever assumed.  The story reached a violent climax, with white and African-Caribbean gangs fighting in the streets, but amid such violence, the narrator understood a lot more about his life and what his future should be.
Joel MacCormack's reading was extremely vocally nuanced; at first he came across as a bit of a "Jack-the-Lad" figure, but as the story progressed, his voice grew softer and more sympathetic.  This was a very clear, lucid reading of MacInnes' classic, banishing once and for all the memories of Julien Temple's catastrophic film version of the mid-Eighties.  The producer was Sara Davies.