Off the shelf
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
As a boy at home my parents took the Daily Mirror. My favourite writer was Keith Waterhouse, who had a twice weekly column on Mondays and Thursdays. When I discovered he had written a book I had to have it. Billy Liar, actually his second work, is sublime – a day in the life of Yorkshire dreamer Billy Stradhoughton who enlivens the dull tedium as an undertakers' assistant with mad fantasies. It is a comedy but deeply sad at the same time and brilliantly conjures up a sense of time and place – 1950s northern England – full of English repression and regret. A modern classic.
Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart
Rod is now a crooner beloved by grannies; a stalwart of the Saturday night TV easy listening slots. But in 1971 when Every Picture came out, he was a gravel-voiced, mic-swinging stage stomper serving up story-in-song epics like Maggie May and Mandolin Wind in a unique and very British rock-meets-folk-meets-blues style. The first LP I bought, in weighty vinyl with a paper inner-sleeve, had a distinctive cover featuring Rod in full-throated, mic-stand-wielding pose. I listened to it endlessly, on large headphones, on my Dad's stereo, every note remembered.
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Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola
"I love the smell of napalm in the morning... it smells like victory..." So says Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) in this 1979 film that I first saw on the big screen in the week it came out. It was a sensation. Epic in scale, shocking in content and deeply, darkly mysterious thanks to Marlon Brandon's frankly weird performance as Colonel Walter E Kurtz, it was a war film that told us so much more about Vietnam and the way it twisted and messed with those sent to fight than an archive full of news footage. And the soundtrack is great too.