Barbara Parker, the protagonist of Nick Hornby’s new novel, is, we are told, ‘pin-up sexy, all legs and bosoms and blonde hair’. She is also a talented and quick-witted actress who, escaping her hometown of Blackpool on the day when she wins the town’s beauty contest, comes to London in 1964 to seek her fortune. After a spell as a shop girl, a chance encounter with an agent results first in her changing her name to the supposedly more commercial ‘Sophie Straw’ and then in auditioning for a new television show. This she predictably aces. She quickly finds herself playing the lead in a sitcom – Barbara (and Jim) – which is adored by the nation (‘the most popular comedy series in Britain’) and praised by the critics (‘Miss Straw is the most extraordinarily gifted comic actress I have seen since the war’). Famous, feted and sleeping with her handsome co-star, decline of one sort or another cannot be too far away.