Christmas has come early in this house with the unexpected, joyful arrival through the door the other day of the tome Peter Alliss was working on when he died. For me, that was the end of all meaningful accomplishment for a few days as I nestled down to enjoy PETER ALLISS: REFLECTIONS ON A LIFE WELL LIVED.
I don’t know quite what I was expecting. In truth, I hadn’t given it much thought but Jackie, Peter’s wife, had confessed to me that it was a difficult project to bring to a close and that the family was keen that it should be done as a lasting testament to Peter. On opening the first pages I discovered that Peter had enlisted the talents of fellow Norn Irish person Bill Elliott in this, his final project.
I whooped with delight. This must surely be a marriage made in heaven. Bill is as skilful with the pen and keyboard as Peter was with his impeccable timing and mastery of the spoken word. The irreverent, observational Elliott humour has been capable of holding court in a multitude of media centres around the world and when you add this to an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of golf it is a delightful mix. And as Patricia drily reminded me, “Bill has been around for a very, very long time!”
The book only very loosely follows some semblance of a chronological timescale but, rather like its author, it rambles hither and thither, just exactly the way good conversation does with an old friend. There’s nothing wishy-washy about Peter’s opinions, however, and in a wonderful chapter near the end of the book he discourses on a range of subjects from Brexit to modern day education to Gary Player to Love Island. Where else would you come across such a range of diverse topics, all in a clump? No punches pulled, but a gentle questioning wonderment as to how on earth did we arrive at this point? Peter always left you with food for thought.
I was privileged to spend quite a bit of time with Peter over the years and be in his company when he was in full flow. A number of my favourite stories are absent from this book, which just goes to show the extent of the treasure trove of yarns at his disposal. How Bill and Peter corralled their collaborations inside the covers of a manageable book is a mystery. No worries about lack of material here, I’d venture to suggest, so ruthless censorship must have been the order of the day.
One of my own favourites is the tale of Peter going to the Dublin area for a tournament after which he decided he’d stay an extra day with some friends. When he did get home he had somehow “misplaced” a whole four days of which he had zero memory. Four weeks later an important looking envelope arrived in the post – the deeds to a tract of land he seemed to have purchased in Wicklow. When he did get round to visiting it some years later he discovered it was situated on an almost vertical hill and was neither use nor ornament to anyone. He assured me, however, that he was positive he’d had a wonderful time while acquiring this useless field!
Censorship notwithstanding, the book bounces merrily along discoursing on such topics as the Masters, the Ryder Cup, television and rubbing shoulders with the stars of stage and screen. Underpinning it all, however, is a great sense of the support of family and especially Jackie, Peter’s wife of many years. The closing chapter is a touching epilogue on “My Peter.” by Jackie, an enabler of the highest order. She kept everything running so Peter could go off and do what he did best and when mobility became an issue for him in later years she was his constant companion, waiting in our BBC production office for the day’s commentary to come to an end when we could all be released back into civilisation and, with a bit of luck, to a nice evening dinner.
The book is a wonderful read, thought-provoking, funny, poignant and beautifully written. Enjoyable for those who never knew Peter personally and enjoyable for those of us who did. It’s hard not to delight in his obvious zest for life itself and his disarming acknowledgment that things came rather easily to him down the years amazingly never seemed to produce rancour or envy in others.
Jackie states that she was “so very blessed to have shared over fifty years with such a unique and special man”. I feel that we are the lucky ones – lucky that the family so generously shared Peter with the rest of us down the years. They have done so again with this book. Buy it, read it, treasure it.
And now that I have taken care of all your Christmas shopping, what are you going to do with all this free time?