When I mentioned I had bought a book by Andrew Collins in my post about the oddity that was my presence on the Wikipedia page for The Collings and Herrin Podcast, this was the book I to which I was referring. I would like to point out that I didn’t buy the book because Richard Herring asked all the nerds, as he calls them, who listen to the podcast to buy the book in a devious plan to get it to number one in the bestsellers before it would plummet the week after.
I read Andrew’s first memoir, Where Did It All Go Right?, covering his early years before college; I enjoyed it very much but I wanted to get to the ‘good’ stuff, i.e. during the time when I became aware of him.
Andrew first impinged my cultural radar in ITV’s Collins and Maconie’s Movie Club, a very enjoyable movie review show that was buffeted across the late-night schedules. They brought a sense of humour to their reviews (describing Sphere as ‘Not so much sphere, as spheres’) and I’ve always watched out for him, and the reason I started reading his blog. The other Collins’ connection is his brief tenure as editor of Empire magazine: I had a week’s work experience at Empire in 2003 (long after Collins had moved on), which was great for a long-time fan of the magazine like me (I even got stuff of mine posted on their online news section). So, I was eager to read his memoirs of his time in the media.
He started out working in as assistant to the art editor of NME (he had done art at college, and was quite artistic growing up), before progressing to writing for NME, starting out doing small pieces before working up to the gossip column, reviews and hanging out with the rock bands, achieving his dream of working for NME, a periodical he had grown up reading. He stays there for a while, flits to Select magazine, comes back and then goes to Q magazine, stays there before taking the editorship of Empire because he felt he shouldn’t have passed over for editorship of Q; fortunately, he got the chance to get the Q job, which he did and enjoyed, until he realised that the job was nearly killing him.
During this time he had started doing radio bits with Stuart Maconie, another writer for NME/Select/Q, which turned into a Radio 1 show, which led into writing comedy together for television, leading to the Movie Club (as well as writing for Clive James). Other television (hosting music awards, writing for awards shows, the multitude of various clips shows that blossomed in the 1990s) and doing a film review show on Radio 4, writing for soaps (first for Channel 5, then on Eastenders), writing sitcoms (Grass with Simon Day and Not Going Out with Lee Mack), and being film review editor for the Radio Times – his career seems completely unstructured and without any kind of plan.
Collins is a very readable writer – his journalistic experience means he knows how to get his point across cleanly and efficiently, and with a good sense humour – and his life experience is a fascinating and diverse flow through different aspects of the media. He provides inside glimpses of how things actually work in magazines, radio and television, but without being salacious. He is very honest about the difficult times, the worry about being a freelancer after having security (and stepping down from being a high up as an editor), and the strangeness of doing so many different things. It also dispels any myths about the mystique of what goes on behind the scenes – and he is quite open about a deserved cynical attitude to the magazine business – and reveals the difficulties of working in television. The book seems to jump around a bit more than the first book, as it covers a lot of ground over a long period of time, but it is still an enjoyable read. I’m glad I’ve finally contributed financially to Andrew Collins after all the free podcasts I’ve downloaded.