When Nigel Goodall told me he was writing this book, I have to admit that I was slightly green with envy, not because I didn’t think Nigel could tell the story with his usual balanced approach, but if there was one book I would have loved to have written myself, it would have been this one. So can you imagine when I was asked to pen a foreword for it, I was simply delighted and thrilled for two reasons. Firstly I adore Nigel’s unique style of writing biography, and secondly, because of Ray’s seemingly endless growing cannon of work.
Before taking this on, however, I read some of Nigel’s previous volumes on such wonderful film talents as Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp and Demi Moore, and what I liked about each one of them was his sympathetic and affectionate telling that I immediately knew if there was anyone who could do justice to Ray Winstone’s story, then it would have to be Nigel. And secondly, there is simply no one in British film today that excites me more than Winstone, so the combination of writer and subject I feel will distinguish this book above any others that follow.
I have to say that nearly almost, all of Ray’s performances on both the small and big screen have left me enthralled every time I watch them, and in doing so, he and his films have also made an indelible imprint on my memory. As one journalist correctly noted, he is the ultimate personification of rock-hardness, and probably one of film’s few tough guy heavies to portray violence as real as it should be to emphasise that violence of any kind is not nice.
One also cannot help but admire how Ray has attracted some of the finest film directors to add their seal of approval to his work by offering him roles in their films. People like Anthony Minghella, Martin Scorsese, and one of his own personal favourites, Gary Oldman. How he succeeded in playing alongside some of his own childhood heroes, such as Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay and David Hemmings is enough, I imagine, to fill any other actor from his generation with envy.
What Nigel has written in Ray Winstone: The Biography is soaked in nostalgia of places, people, crime, race, events and memoirs of a young boy who loved football, boxing and cinema. And certainly the love of cinema is something Nigel shares with Ray, which places him, I believe, in a unique position to write this book. I say unique, because most of Nigel’s childhood was spent hanging out at the Essoldo Theatre in Tunbridge Wells, where he befriended management and staff for posters, stills, lobby cards and complimentary tickets each week, and therefore grew up surrounded by film and cinema from an early age. He even lists the same favourite movies as Ray does from that period of time in the early to mid sixties.
What I like so much about the book is how Nigel appears to place himself squarely in the midst of Ray’s life and career with an intriguing run of surprising behind-the-scene glimpses of both Ray on and off screen, and of the Ray Winstone whom readers will certainly recognise from the celebrated public image. From his humble beginnings stalking the notorious streets of the East End to strolling down the red carpet at any number of award shows and celebrity party bashes, it is a nuanced portrait sharpely drawn, and closely observed, from a wealth of sources and material, that are never presented with anything less than admiration for one of Nigel’s favourite actors – and mine – ever since we both watched Scum in 1979.
At the centre of it, of course, are the films and television, for which Ray so far has notched up more than a hundred appearances. And every one as impressive as the last. Whether a bit part, a cameo, a supporting or lead role, or simply advertising a healthy breakfast cereal, it is an impressive count for any actor to be proud of.
Certainly, the way Nigel flirts between the Moors Murders and the Krays (both illuminating in Ray’s childhood) is very rewarding. There are some sparkling things that happened to Ray in his early life and so often with celebrity this is not the case. It can be a bit of a tyranny when reading someone’s early years in a biography. A syndrome Frank Skinner summed up by commenting, ‘Hurry up and get famous you bastard!’ Crude, but true. But the opening chapters in this tome are rich with slices of London’s Eastend – a piece of England that is notorious with the underworld. A piece of turf you get the feeling Ray, in his early years, was very comfortable prowling. Throughout, Nigel’s narrative is drenched in Ray’s gritty cockney dialogue, both real and humorous. You can actually hear him saying the words. After reading this book, there can be no doubt that you will have what I believe is a truly accurate account of Ray’s life and career so far, and most intriguing of all, some illuminating insights to what his rise, fall and rise again must have looked like from his side of the screen.
Simon W. Golding, Novelist, Scriptwriter & Playwright