The British star system has always been a ramshackle affair. Stars have rarely been manufactured by the industry and were usually successful in some other medium before films took a risk on them. Even those actors who made it to the top found themselves shoved into unsuitable vehicles or starved of publicity. The sensible ones went to Hollywood the first chance they got.
Geoffrey Macnab's book looks at film stardom in Britain from its beginnings at the turn of the century into the 1960s. It's a sorry tale of blighted hopes and wasted chances, and Macnab does a good job of detailing the mistakes made and the (few) successes achieved.
The book takes a mainly chronological path with the odd digression. Some of the digressions are a little unnecessary such as the lengthy section on British character actors in Hollywood. Sometimes the chronological structure is a little unwieldy such as the chapter headed Starmakers which begins with a look at the Rank Charm School but continues by examining the Albert Finney/ Julie Christie generation of actors.
The book could have benefited from examining the people behind the stars pulling the strings, but maybe that's the point: there weren't any. It's full of fascinating facts (Jean Kent was on £5 a week at her peak!) and very few inaccuracies (it says Alastair Sim played Inspector Hornleigh). All in all a good read and worth a place in any film fan's library.
ISBN: 0 - 304 - 33352 - 2
Price: £16.99, $29.95Searching for Stars: available at Amazon UK