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BOOK REVIEW: Honest account of Bruno's diversion from a well-trodden path; Frank: Fighting Back By Frank Bruno with Kevin Mitchell Yellow Jersey Press price: pounds 11.39 (saving pounds 7.60 on published price.

Byline: Peter Sharkey

A few years ago, a mention of Frank Bruno's name would immediately conjure images of a big loveable guy with a deep laugh and an urgent need of a decent scriptwriter.

The image remained sharp because prior to September 1995, Frank was another outstanding British sportsman who had managed to capture the public's heart without having achieved what he set out to do"I'd gone into boxing to make some decent money and to be world champion," he writes in Frank: Fighting Back, something which he finally achieved at the fourth attempt by defeating Oliver McCall more than a decade ago.

At last, Frank was a world champion; no longer the gallant loser, the nearly man, but a big loveable guy with a world crown. Everyone knew he wouldn't remain champion for long - not through a lack of ability, but because of time's relentless march, that toughest of opponents which ultimately defeats the most talented of sportsmen and women.

Still, Frank was only 33 and his life after boxing appeared well mapped out, assuming he chose the time of his retirement.

He had successfully played the funny-man routine with BBC commentator Harry Carpenter for years and, in between fights, had found a new lease of life on stage after first appearing as Juliet opposite Lenny Henry's Romeo (picture it) during the Comic Relief broadcast in 1985.

By the early 1990s, Frank was as much in demand for Christmas pantomime as he was for the boxing ring. Surely, most people imagined, we would continue to see the big man acting the fool on our television screens long after he hung up his gloves.

But life is never as straightforward as we may sometimes expect or want it to be and Bruno, after looking (but never behaving) like the man who had everything, soon fell into deep despair once he retired as a professional boxer.

In explaining his depression and what led him to (among other things) frequently drive across London in the early hours of the morning or make long rambling phone calls or embark on incredibly expensive shopping sprees, Bruno has assembled a sometimes frighteningly honest account of his life.

Great credit for this goes to his collaborator, Kevin Mitchell, who one imagines having to sensitively extricate some of those darkest secrets from big Frank.

It would have been relatively easy to write a standard sportsman's biography of Frank Bruno, but this book is much better for not being something which has simply rolled off a well-oiled production line.

Indeed, since Bruno was forcibly removed from his home in 2003, it would have been impossible to tell his tale without reference to his mental problems. Once installed in the Pathways clinic however, doctors realised he was suffering from bipolar disorder, a mental affliction from which, thankfully, he appears to be making a good recovery.

In many respects, Frank: Fighting Back is similar to two other startlingly honest biographies, those of Paul Gascoigne and Boris Becker, each of whom could have written a 'been there, done that'-style account of their respective lives in sport, but both were a much better read for deciding to be honest.

Frank's autobiography falls firmly into this category, although that is not to say it is a publication without humour - far from it - but if you're looking for a reading gift which is a bit different this Christmas and still fancy having Frank Bruno around, this book is highly recommended
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 2005
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