Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux

My enjoyment of Louis Theroux’s memoir, Gotta Get Theroux This has nothing to do with the sentiment expressed on these pencils… I promise.

Okay. I admit that I have always been a huge fan of Louis Theroux. It’s something about his slightly bewildered approach to everything; his self-deprecating humour; his genuine curiosity; his listening super-powers (and I say that because, as someone in the listening business, Louis’s capacity for hearing people’s stories and the timing of his questions, is glorious to watch).

Gotta Get Theroux This covers Louis’s childhood, his adolescence, his first foray into documentary making (under the watchful eye of the legendary Michael Moore), and how his career grew to include a number of series for the BBC and film-length documentaries.

Louis’s eye for detail – particularly picking out the less obvious – is evident from the beginning of the book. He describes his primary school as “…full of kids in Bay City Rollers t-shirts playing rounders, beanbags that smelled of chocolate, and road-safety films that they showed on a portable screen in the assembly hall.” These sorts of descriptions create the backdrop for life before his big break, and it was this part of the book that I enjoyed the most – the crushing disappointment of not singing with his school choir on Blue Peter; his obsessive study habits; the divorce of his parents; and studying history at Oxford.

For most of O level year of 1985, I kept a diary, which I can’t now put my hand to but can probably summarize without too much difficulty: I don’t have any friends. When will my life start? Why don’t I have any pubic hair? These sentiments interleaved with Big Thoughts About Life, the death of God, Crime and Punishment, which I had recently read, a paisley shirt I’d bought…and was excited about, meditations on whether I might be a Nietzschean Übermensch, and a sense of doom at my prospects of ever getting a girlfriend or in fact even speaking to a girl or standing near one at a bus stop.

For those familiar with Louis’s documentaries, the information about what when on behind-the-scenes is fascinating. Although he may be best known for his Jimmy Savile and Scientology documentaries, one of my favourites is about Christine and Neil Hamilton. Incredibly, during the filming of his documentary about former MP Neil Hamilton (undertaken because there was a suggestion of a sex scandal), the Hamiltons were arrested for an alleged rape (charges were later dropped when the accuser admitted to fabricating the story). The scene where a tipsy Christine flirts with Theroux, while press gather outside the Hamilton’s residence is excruciating to watch, and fascinating to read about.

The last part of the book is devoted to Louis’s soul-searching regarding the ‘Jimmy Savile saga’ (which didn’t make Australian news they way it did in Britain). Louis struggled to reconcile the Jimmy that he knew with the child-abuser and rapist that was revealed after Jimmy had died –

To persuade others, you first have to drink your own Kool-Aid. But how had Jimmy – with his rampant grabbings and rapes – ever imagined that he was being anything other than vicious?

There’s an element of disbelief in Louis’s reflections on Jimmy – that he can’t quite fathom that he had been duped, or that his keen eye for detail had somehow missed something glaringly obvious (you see the same thing in his documentary about sexual assault on US campuses). It puts the reader in an interesting position – for 300+ pages you read about Louis choosing his stories, his ‘contributors’, his angles. He stresses that “…in making programmes, I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt… My working practice was to see evil as a side effect of misguidedness or selfishness or woundedness, but only very rarely as an active attempt to do wrong.”

He goes on to say, “If I can make a single observation based on almost everyone I’ve interviewed, it’s that we’re complicated. We hate those we love. We feel exalted in being debased. Victims can be bullies. Suffering can feel comfortable. Insanity can make perfect sense.”

And so, in explaining the Savile situation, Louis indirectly asks his readers to look at him through the very lens he has used to understand others for decades. It’s a savvy way to frame his memoir.

4/5 Probably one for fans only but I loved it.

7 responses

    • Yes, the book shows that although he makes his work seem ‘effortless’, a lot of time goes into planning his stories (which have what he refers to as a ‘tripod’ of elements – comedy, pathos and participation).

  1. He’s a marmite figure I find – rather irritating on many occasions but he does have the ability to get people to reveal more about themselves than they realise. The programme he did with some white supremacists in the USA was jaw dropping….

  2. Seeing as I allow myself zero screen time, I don’t know who he is, but yes, I remember my first paisley shirt, hair in odd places, endless debates about god, Crime & Punishment. It’s a very perceptive review. I think you think a lot about what it is to be an interviewer. Not me. I’m a teller not a listener.

  3. Pingback: Six Degrees of Separation – from Fleishman to Sweetbitter | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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