Borstal Boy is Irish writer, Brendan Behan’s, autobiography and was first published in 1958. My copy is a 1970 Corgi paperback (pictured below) and is (as the tag line on the cover proclaims) a bawdy, swaggering and outrageous read, with the opening couple of pages a beautifully crafted description of the sixteen year Brendan’s arrest in a dowdy bedsit with his suitcase full of drugs and IRA explosives. The policemen are wonderfully observed rain-coated and trilby-hatted coppers, one of whom roughs Brendan up a bit until the copper in charge asks what the hell he thinks he’s doing. I’d forgotten what a joy it is to read, with the Irish roaring boy at the height of his fame as he hobnobbed with the English theatrical aristocracy at first nights who laughed as they fed him caviar and champagne and laughed even more when he told them of how it had been, as an IRA terrorist, his job to blow them up if he’d had a clue how to do it.
He knew how to write though, as the following, from Borstal Boy, shows:
“ I was the first to be tried. The proceedings were short and sweet like an ass’s gallop.
“ The stuff had been caught with me, and as a soldier of the Irish Republican Army I refused to recognize the court. This made the clerk enter a plea of ‘Not Guilty’, after it had been established that I was not a deaf mute, but mute of malice.
“ The judge asked me had I anything to say. I delivered my speech which I had off by heart.
“ After I had said, My Lord and gentlemen, it is my privilege and honour and all that effect, he very rudely interrupted me to say, as casually as he could, though he was a ham actor, and in a temper, that he and the jury did not wish to listen to a political speech.
“ I waited on him to finish and went on with my speech, in a louder voice. I have a sense of humour that would nearly cause me to burst out laughing at a funeral, providing it was not my own, and solemn speeches are not easily made by me. I can’t keep it up…”
I had an Irish uncle who, like Behan, been sent to England in the 1930s to await…