Review – Please Mister Postman by Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson Book Please Mister Postman

Published: Tuesday 14th October 2014 by Paul Nickerson - Writer

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Alan Johnson has missed two vocations in life: Prime Minister and Writer. But as a recent winner of both the Orwell and Ondaatje prizes for literature he is quickly making up for the latter.

Last year, the former Home Secretary and MP for West Hull published the beautifully written ‘This Boy’, a memoir of his impoverished early years. As an orphan from the age of 12, Alan was brought up by his older sister Linda in conditions harsh even for 1950s London.

Alan’s latest instalment, Please Mister Postman, is a continuation of the story from 1968 when Alan was 17. By 20 he was married with three children and working for the post office in Slough.

Although Alan went to Grammar School and passed the eleven plus, he never went on to university. In a recent interview with Mark Lawson he said this fact “always marked him out as different” once he finally arrived in the corridors of power.

But all that was in the future. First Alan would have to climb up the ranks of the Communication Workers Union which he did with relative speed, becoming a national officer by the age of 37.

If the reader was unaware of Alan’s eventual destiny as a senior member of Tony Blair’s cabinet, they might be forgiven for having him down as something very different. Alan’s subsequent transformation does invite speculation from the reader that will only be confirmed, or denied, once a third and final book is released.

Unlike other Communists turned Blairites,  there’s nothing phony about Alan’s political journey. It’s a genuine awakening. As the end of the book arrives one gets the sense of demanding the next instalment to shine a light on how it all turns out for a man more bothered about people than party politics.

Although with a childhood that resembled John Major’s more than Tony Blair‘s you get the impression he’s always been more of a one nation man than his colleagues in the Communications Workers Union would have believed. Of Scargill and co he says “they were like pilots who had learnt to take off but not to land”.

Alan Johnson’s pain over the death of his brother-in-law Mike, on whom he looked as a father is confounded by his heartbreak at the failure of his first marriage to Judy Cox to whom he was with for 20 years. Throughout the book there is constant evidence of a man more emotionally available than you might say of other former home secretaries.

Everyone likes Alan Johnson, he is one of a handful of popular politicians. He’s less marmite than Boris and hugely less contrived. Those that have met him describe him as a warm companion, open and caring.

It’s not clear if it’s his personality that makes him a naturally brilliant writer or a more finite gift of a deep empathy for the needs of others.

As a memoir ‘Please Mister Postman’ is full of insight. As social history, albeit only just history, as Alan is only 64 (Ronald Reagan didn’t become president until he was 69) it will be familiar to many.

Speaking of Ronald Reagan; why was it that after such a speedy rise to power Alan did not become Prime Minister?  Privately Alan confesses to a certain self-mocking and parody unfamiliar to high office. But with Ed Miliband failing to open up a proper lead over the Tories, maybe the story is not over yet?  Maybe the final memoir will be much thicker than planned? Come on Alan, don’t talk yourself out of it. If your memoir were your election manifesto you would definitely get in.

Please Mister Postman – A Memoir

Author: Alan Johnson MP

Published by Random House

Available from Amazon

Our verdict: 4.5/5

 

Published: Tuesday 14th October 2014 by Paul Nickerson - Writer

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