Alan Davies’s first memoir, My Favourite People and Me 1978-1988 (later republished as Teenage Revolution), was a wry look at his suburban adolescence and early career in comedy. Each chapter was organised around one of his idols from the era, among them Paul Weller and Barry Sheene. While there were allusions to a difficult period prompted by his mother’s death when he was six, the tone was generally light-hearted and jolly.
Just Ignore Him, his second memoir, is a very different book. There are no arch diversions into popular culture, nor is it a knockabout look at teenage life. Focused on Davies’s childhood, it is fiercely honest, sometimes upsetting, and tells of the deep secrets that he has carried “in every molecule of my flesh and bones and in every thought and action, in my hunched, splayed-footed walk, my lisping Essex accent, and my lack of belief in God”.
The death of Davies’s mother from leukaemia looms large, not least because we learn that her husband neglected to tell her, or their children, that her condition was terminal. Decades later, he found a letter his mum had written to his father from hospital in which she shared her frustration at her worsening symptoms. Within a fortnight, she was dead.
But there was worse to come. Davies also details the sexual abuse he endured from his father, which began when he was around eight and continued until he was 13. Roy Davies would visit his son in his bedroom when his other two children were asleep, and ask him to take off his pyjamas. It was, says Davies, “a quiet, librarial molestation”. The first time it happened, his father issued a warning. “This is our special cuddle,” he said. “You must never tell anyone about this cuddle.”
Davies’s book jumps back and forth in time, sharing snapshots of his father’s grimly manipulative behaviour and the agony of his mother’s absence. It is intimate and open-hearted, the tone more sad than angry. There are flashes of humour, albeit of the pitch-black variety. The first chapter sees Davies parked in a country lane in his car in 2017 clutching an envelope full of indecent images. His father had been printing out pictures of young boys and hiding them in his wardrobe – Davies’s stepmother only learned of their existence after one got jammed in the printer. Putting them in a cloth bag with the PG Tips monkey printed on the outside, she panicked and passed them on to her stepson.
The book is open-hearted, the tone more sad than angry – there are flashes of humour, albeit of the pitch-black variety
And so we find Davies sitting next to a pile of pornographic pictures and fretting about being caught with them. He imagines crashing his car into a tree and having to be cut out of it, and the shame of the pictures spilling out. He wonders whether the monkey “would somehow seal the bag before the emergency services arrived, or [if] he could switch the contents, by sleight of knitted paw”.
Also running through the book is the intense loneliness felt by Davies as he carried his secret. He talks of an overwhelming desire to please others, which manifested in shoplifting on behalf of schoolfriends; of trying to share achievements with teachers he liked, only for it to come out as boasting; and playing the joker at home, the absence of laughter from his family only making him push harder. On top of the abuse, Davies endured the contempt of his siblings who looked on him mostly as an irritant. His father, brother and sister frequently formed a united front against him. Only later did he understand that this was a further manipulation by his father. That he was cast as unreliable, disruptive and a habitual liar – a caricature that would become self-fulfilling – meant that should he ever tell on his father, he would never be believed.
This book, then, is both the story of a life derailed by abuse and a study into the ways abusers control their victims. It took Davies until he was 51 to go to the police which, he notes, made him “five years older than my dad had been the last time he molested me”. While his father, who was now in his 80s, wasn’t charged on account of his Alzheimer’s – it was felt he would be deemed unfit to plead – the CPS affirmed Davies’s version of events. “I had what I needed,” he reflects. “The document from the CPS said they believed me, not him.” Davies says that the writing of Just Ignore Him wasn’t merely an exercise in healing. “Above all,” he writes, “I have set out to tell you the things you don’t know about me, in the hope that one day, perhaps, you will feel able to tell someone what they don’t know about you.”
• Just Ignore Him is published by Little, Brown (£18.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.