Ian Dury biographer to introduce Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll film screening

Keiron PimNorwich-based writer Richard Balls wrote the first biography of Ian Dury and tonight he'll be introducing a local screening of a new film documenting the rock star's life.Keiron Pim

'There are two ways to avoid death,' reckoned Ian Dury, 'and one of them is to be magnificent.'

In a way he was right: a decade after his death his music lives on, while his ebullient and ultimately inspiring personality is the focus of an eagerly-awaited new film.

But if he was magnificent in many people's view, not least his own, he could also be obnoxious and selfish. Faced with the obstacle of being crippled by polio, Dury felt that if he didn't look out for himself, no one else would; and the attitude worked, helping the boy who couldn't walk unaided haul his way up from the horrors of a boarding school for the disabled to the top of the charts.

The darker sides of Dury's character are well explored in Mat Whitecross' new biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, where he is played by Andy Serkis, and they are there to see in Norwich-based writer Richard Balls' acclaimed biography of the same name, which was published in 2000 just after the Blockheads' frontman died from cancer aged 57.

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Richard will discuss Dury's life tonight when he introduces a special screening of the film at Cinema City in Norwich.

'My book is a linear approach to the story and tells it in a chronological way, but with the film they had a lot of scope to do it differently and it really works,' he says.

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'They have structured it so that it segues very cleverly from one chapter of his life to another without seeming disjointed. The film focuses on his very complicated relationships with his wife Betty, his lover Denise and his son Baxter, and it also deals with the way that he responded to fame, which was very badly.

'Ian and fame didn't mix. At the height of his fame he was at his most unpleasant, and the film doesn't shy away from the kind of person that Ian Dury was: aggressive, confrontational and very difficult to be around a lot of the time.'

Seeing a preview recently brought Richard right back into Dury's world, reminding him of the late-1990s days when he spent much of his spare time traipsing around the country in search of erstwhile Blockheads, discarded drummers from Dury's first band Kilburn and the High Roads, childhood friends and elderly relatives. It was in the latter two categories that he struck gold, finding the friend who took Dury on a fateful trip to Southend swimming pool and being directed by Dury himself towards his elderly aunt; both sources offered invaluable information and a trove of hitherto unseen photographs.

'I decided to approach from the outside and work towards the centre, with Ian at the centre,' he recalls. 'Obviously Ian was ill at the time and I was very aware that I had to be sensitive to his family and friends.

'The nearer I got to him, the more he knew what I was doing and he became curious about what I was doing.'

Dury was born in Harrow in 1942, the son of a university academic and a bus driver, though later he would claim to have been born in Upminster, Essex, which better fitted the gruff, 'working-class geezer' image he adopted.

In the cockney rhyming slang that peppered his speech he was a 'raspberry ripple', one who fought tirelessly to avoid being patronised or pigeon-holed for his disability.

'His life was a fight - that was how he saw life,' says Richard. 'That's why he was so confrontational.' At Chailey Heritage School, the institution in East Sussex where he was sent after contracting polio, he was 'always told 'You are on your own, you have to pick yourself up off the floor, and no one else will do it for you'.'

Tracking down the childhood friend who in some ways felt responsible for Dury's disability was one of Richard's proudest moments. Exploring the Essex village of Cranham in which Dury grew up, he found elderly residents who remembered the young Dury and put Richard in touch with a friend called Barry Anderson.

'When I contacted him, it turned out that he and his mother took Ian to Southend swimming pool in the summer of 1949. It was just incredible to stumble on this guy who was Ian's childhood friend, who had been there at this momentous time in Ian's life, and who always felt kind of guilty that he didn't contract polio himself.'

The book continues to do well, having notched up 32,000 sales to date, with the new film prompting fresh interest. Richard, a former EDP journalist who works as communications manager for Norwich City Council, still holds Dury up as a musical hero.

His heyday was in the late 1970s and early 80s: his first album New Boots and Panties!! sold more than a million copies. What was so great about the music, then?

'It's unique,' Richard believes. 'That's not a word to be bandied about lightly when you are talking about popular music but in the case of Ian Dury it's spot on.

'The reason is that Dury's influences were music hall, vaudeville and jazz and [his creative partner] Chaz Jankel's influences were funk and American music. You had this coming together of these incredibly diverse things.'

But Dury's appeal is about more than the music, he adds.

'I think that's to do with his story. The music was amazing, but lots of people's music is amazing. It's because he was a very inspirational man for many people and you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by his story.'

t Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is out now. The event with Richard Balls takes place at Cinema City at 6.10pm tonight. For tickets call 0871 704 2053 or visit: www.picturehouses.co.uk

t Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: the Life of Ian Dury is published by Omnibus Press, priced �9.95. London Street bookshop The Book Hive will sell discounted copies at the Cinema City screening.

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