Playing Under The Piano – Hugh Bonneville

Published By: Abacus
Pages: 384
Released On: 13/10/2022

Hugh Bonneville is one of Britain’s most accomplished actors, familiar to audiences worldwide for his roles in Notting Hill, the Paddington films and Downton Abbey. From getting his big break as Third Shepherd in the school nativity play, to mistaking a Hollywood star for an estate agent, Hugh creates a brilliantly vivid picture of a career on stage and screen. What is it like working with Judi Dench and Julia Roberts, or playing Robert de Niro’s right leg, or not being Gary Oldman, twice? A wickedly funny storyteller, Hugh also writes with poignancy about his father’s dementia and of his mother, whose life in the secret service only emerged after her death. Whether telling stories of working with divas, Dames or a bear with a penchant for marmalade, this is a richly entertaining account of his life as an actor.


Is there anyone who doesn’t absolutely adore Hugh Bonneville? I know they say you shouldn’t meet the people you admire but I’d love to meet him. And by spending time with his autobiography, it’s like I know him.

I’m always amazed in a memoir how people can remember things from their past, even down to conversations they had, and Hugh does that brilliantly, providing us with anecdotes about his time on the stage and the who’s who of colleagues.

The majority of us will know him from his TV and movie work, and wouldn’t necessarily have had the luxury of seeing him on stage, so it was fascinating to hear about that side of his career and his progress to the big screen.

I love the little secrets and backstage gossip he gives us, not only from the theatre but from some of his best loved works including W1A, Downton Abbey, Monument Men and Paddington. It gives the readers something to take away and gives them something extra to think about when watching them.

I know this sounds contradictory but go with it. Whilst I’m aware the whole point of an autobiography is to talk about yourself, but I find a lot of them to be self centred, rather than talk about their life for information sakes, they do it to show off. But Hugh’s didn’t feel like that. It felt like chatting to a friend.

It’s very natural and not stilted in any way. It flits and floats from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, from theatre to TV and to film, in and out, back and forth, and whereas this might have been confusing, it wasn’t even thought about. It just flowed so well.

I love additions of photographs in biographies, and I instantly go to them first before I read any of it, and he’s chosen some good ones that just flow so well with the prose.

I find memoirs are either very, very good and well accomplished, or are a bit…..meh, a bit okay. This was definitely in the first category. I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone, whether you’re a fan of his or not (but, quite frankly, I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be).

It’s funny and interesting, entertaining, and a fascinating insight into his personal and professional life. You can see how passionate he is about his craft. He’s honest, baring the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Overall it’s very funny. Funnier than I expect a memoir to be. He’s self deprecating, doesn’t take himself too seriously, and manages to find love and light and humour in everything he does.

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