Telegraph review of John's Book
The lurid charm of John Barrowman
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 02/02/2008
Philip Hensher reviews Anything Goes by John Barrowman and Carol E
When the doyen of British television writers, Russell T Davies, was
given licence to bring back Doctor Who, I wonder whether the BBC quite
knew what it was in for. In his brilliant Channel 4 series, Queer As
Folk, Davies had given passing acknowledgement that gay men absolutely
love Doctor Who. Now, there was one in charge.
The first suggestion that the re-invention here might go beyond
spending on special effects and top-quality scripts came with the
introduction of a character, Captain Jack, unlike anyone ever seen on
children's television before. Frankly lecherous, he was just as likely
to make a pass at a man as at a woman.
To add to the provocation, the actor, it quickly emerged, was himself
cheerfully gay, and soon a much-enjoyed fixture on the bolder sort of
There had always been a camp element to Doctor Who - there is an
antique sequence, "Carnival of Monsters", in which intergalactic
travellers speak in Polari, the postwar gay slang. But Captain Jack
was something rather different, and the character quickly ran
gloriously away with the show. Torchwood, the spin-off series, is a
bewilderingly enjoyable narrative of polymorphous perversity, science
fiction, set (oddest of all) in Cardiff.
John Barrowman, the immensely likeable actor behind Captain Jack, has
written his autobiography. Normally, you might think this a bit
previous, as old ladies used to say, as he basically has no more than
a few lead roles in West End musicals, Captain Jack and judging a
couple of reality talent shows on his CV.
But - let's face it - we love him, and the book has the right saucy,
sassy, somewhat overexcited quality for an afternoon on the sofa with
a box of violet creams.
Barrowman was born in Scotland but brought up in America. There were
difficulties to face - " 'John,' she said. 'They're jealous of you,
and you may not believe this right now, but some day you'll get the
last laugh.' " He began in the right way, winning first prize in a
fancy dress contest on the QE2 dressed as the Queen of the Nile in a
At theatre school, a trip to Britain ended in the full 42nd Street
wish-fulfilment fantasy. He was discovered at an open audition, and
was soon partnering Elaine Page in the West End.
Tales of West End backstage dramas - "You! My dressing room! Now!" -
are always enjoyable, and Barrowman has no inhibitions about telling
some occasionally rather disgusting ones. (White trousers, inadvertent
taking of laxative, high-kicking routine )
On or off stage, he has the business we call show in his blood, as
open-mouthed Germans watch him perfecting his Cher impression "while
riding the escalator at Munich's International Airport".
Beneath all the high jinks and the practical jokes, including paying
his nine-year-old nephew a hundred dollars to eat dog food, there is
obviously a talented and devoted professional.
Howlingly camp though much of this is, Barrowman obviously has a
steely vein of ambition, and when he was taken up by Doctor Who, it
was probably the toughness, and the desire not to waste anyone's time,
which quickly made the adverb in "openly gay" seem absurd.
What you see is, unapologetically, what you get, and that is always a
likeable quality in someone.
Though putting on a good show of being a total tart - "a boy can learn
a lot in the back seat of a car" - in reality, he is sweetly devoted
to his architect husband Scott and their pet dogs.
No doubt their lives are wildly A-gay, and we hear horrid tales of
dinner parties in Holland Park - "Were you not a guest of Valentino
one summer on his yacht?" But their domestic life sounds like Terry
and June, with more beige in the soft furnishings and a higher thread
Two things are terribly telling about this charmingly lurid memoir, in
quite different ways. The first is that, in the photographs, Barrowman
is shown five times in drag, and separately dressed up as a penguin, a
matador, Groucho Marx and a Nazi storm trooper.
The second, much more curiously, is that the index is hilariously
overdone, summarising the showbiz doings in a level of detail much
more appropriate to, say, a history of Belarus.
Underneath the surface, this is a man who takes himself very
seriously. But the surface will do for most of us.