banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

BOOK REVIEW: The Hero Maker: A Biography Of Paul Brickhill by Stephen Dando-Collins

| 4 October 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Hero Maker: A Biography Of Paul Brickhill by Stephen Dando-Collins

Penguin Random House
August 2016
Paperback, $34.99
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar




Sometimes ordinary men can live extraordinary lives, getting swept up in global events almost despite themselves. Paul Brickhill was such a man: an Australian journalist who drank too much, Brickhill initially resisted joining up to fight in World War II until the lure of learning how to fly became too strong for him to resist.

Brickhills’s training took him first to Canada, and then England as he quickly graduated to flying Spitfires in the African conflict, and although he proved no ace in the fighter at all, he was still shot down by Italian planes, dragged by his parachute through a minefield, miraculously missing the killer bombs buried just below the surface, and right into the arms of enemy troops.

It was in Germany’s Stalag Luft 3 that the course of the rest of Brickhill’s life was ordained, when he fell in with the men tunnelling out of the camp in what would become known as The Great Escape.

Brickhill didn’t break out of the camp that cold Spring night – and just as well, as only three men hit a ‘home run’ and made it to safety, with the rest being captured and half of them executed brutally by the Nazis, on Hitler’s orders, to prove a macabre point.

Brickhill and another prisoner documented the escape, as well as many others, putting them together in book form after the war concluded, which then led to a commission to expand The Great Escape story into a novelised format of its own.

Brickhill quickly fell into a niche of writing real-life war stories, penning a history of 617 Squadron – The Dambusters – and legless pilot Douglas Bader’s story, as Reach For The Sky. All three of these books spawned movie adaptations, and even if Brickhill wasn’t happy with the fictional licence taken by the film’s producers (especially in The Great Escape, whose Steve McQueen character and signature motorcycle chase was completely fabricated much to the author’s chagrin), they helped make the characters involved heroes in the eyes of the public, and made Brickhill a very well-off man.

Dando-Collins’ biography of Brickhill reads like one of the author’s adventure novels, with thrills and spills a-plenty, and it is meticulously researched from hundreds of different sources, all coming together to paint a picture of a man who was, in some ways, out of his depth, and who in later life struggled heavily with the pressure of following up his greater achievements. A disastrous marriage to model Margot Slater, writer’s block and an over-reliance on alcohol all combined to create mental health problems for Brickhill, who lived much of the last twenty-five years of his life a virtual recluse.

The Hero Maker is a gripping tale told extremely well, and a very human story: it’s impossible not to feel for Brickhill as he struggles with his demons and his reputation, and one must wonder if he were born in another era, with more modern help for depression, and less social pressure to remain in an obviously dysfunctional relationship, whether he might have been a happier and more productive man.

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad