Brian Cox’s autobiography, Putting The Rabbit In The Hat: From the errand boy stage to the centre stage is brutal and honest.

My autobiography, Putting the Rabbit in The Hat

Brian Cox                                                                                                        Quercus £20


Caroline Cox, Brian’s pregnant wife called him in 1971. ‘I’ve got good news and bad news,’ she said. ‘The good news is that we had twins. The bad news is they didn’t make it.’

Caroline had, Cox says, ‘a dark, almost gallows sense of humour’. Cox is not a stranger to the dark, but it’s true. 

Although Putting The Rabbit In The Hat may be one of the most memorable showbiz memoirs, it is not without its flaws. Cox’s honesty is the same as his on-screen and off-screen candor.

Putting The Rabbit In The Hat's quality comes at the expense of the feelgood froth that usually fills such books. Cox (above) is as honest here as he is on stage and screen

The quality of Putting The Rabbit In The Hat is at the cost of the feeling-good froth that fills these books. Cox is (above), as candid onscreen and in person as he is when speaking truthfully.

His Titus Andronicus (the Manhunter spelling), his Petruchio and his Hannibal Lecktor, the book displays a brutal honesty. ‘Humanity,’ he counsels at one point, ‘is a failed experiment.’

Certainly, Cox’s childhood was as hardscrabble as that of Logan Roy, the Scots-born zillionaire he plays in Succession. 

At one point, Logan’s children tour Dundee, where their father grew up. Logan and his children are amazed at the simplicity of their semi. A semi would have been luxury to Cox, raised in a tenement flat in Dundee’s poor Stobswell quarter.

Brian, who was only eighteen when his dad passed away from pancreatic carcinoma, had to witness his mother’s suicide attempts. 

Thankfully, the lad was stage-struck – and found salvation in his dream of being an actor. ‘I don’t believe that you have to live through tragedy in order to portray it, but it does help.’

Cox’s tale of rags to riches is a favorite. But the account of his climb up the theatrical ladder – from Dundee Rep Theatre errand boy to joining the National Theatre – is the dullest bit of the book.

Cox is more entertaining than the rest because he constantly mocks other stars. Johnny Depp? ‘SO overblown, SO overrated.’ Edward Norton? ‘A nice lad, but a bit of a pain in the a***.’ As for the Brits, Gielgud wallows in ‘poetic profligacy’.

Princess Margaret comes off no better for ‘feeling up’ Brian at a backstage party. Then again, though he is a CBE, Cox condemns what he sees as our ‘feudal’ society, designed to keep people ‘in one place, not allowing them to progress’.

The book isn’t all agitprop. It’s as funny as it is furious. It’s worth reading just for the onstage love scene in which Kate Nelligan removes some military-strength tights and Brian gets a friction burn on his surname.

Cox quotes advice from the director Lindsay Anderson: ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ Brian Cox has done everything, and with this book he leaves everyone else standing.