This Boy by Alan Johnson; Self-Portrait as a Young Man by Roy Strong; How to Live to Be 22 by Keith Waterhouse - review by Jeremy Lewis

Jeremy Lewis

Fleeing the Nest

This Boy


Bantam Press 297pp £16.99

Self-Portrait as a Young Man


Bodleian Library 286pp £25

How to Live to Be 22


British Library 148pp £12.99

Poverty loomed large in all the childhoods under review: ‘grinding’ in the case of Alan Johnson, the postman-turned-Cabinet minister, who grew up in condemned slum houses in North Kensington; imminent for museum curator Roy Strong, whose parents had escaped to a neat suburban house in north London only to discover that in the postwar world ‘money was unbelievably tight, down to counting pennies’; and a source of fantasy for the 22-year-old Keith Waterhouse, busy rewriting his past to suit whatever role he happened to be playing at the time, from pipe-smoking Young Conservative to radical left-winger whose greengrocer father had died of malnutrition.

Johnson grew up in a house with a family living on each of its four floors: it was damp and bug-ridden, with torn lino on the floor, a ‘tatty scrap’ of carpet in the living room and no electricity; all four families shared a ‘single decrepit toilet’ in the concrete

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