Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2014
Ben Watt's father was a working-class Glaswegian jazz musician—a politicized left-wing bandleader and composer—whose heyday in the late 1950s took him into the glittering heart of London's West End. His mother, Romany, the daughter of a Methodist parson, was a Shakespearean actress who had triplets in her first marriage before becoming a leading showbiz feature writer and columnist in the '60s and '70s. They were both divorced and from very different backgrounds, and they came together at a fateful New Year's Day party in 1957 like colliding trains.
Romany and Tom is Ben Watt's honest, sometimes painful, and often funny portrait of his parents' exceptional lives and marriage, depicted in a personal journey from his own wide-eyed London childhood, through years as an adult with children and a career of his own, to that inevitable point when we must assume responsibility for our own parents in their old age. Spanning several decades—and drawing on a rich seam of family letters, souvenirs, photographs, public archives, and personal memories—it is a vivid story of the postwar years, ambition and stardom, family roots and secrets, big band jazz, depression and drink, life in clubs and nursing homes. It is also about who we are, where we come from, and how we love and live with each other for the long term.