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The Fun Palace: An Autobiography

(2 customer reviews)


Agnes Bernelle, one of Ireland’s best-loved stage performers, was born Agnes Bernauer in Berlin in 1923, the daughter of a renowned Jewish-Hungarian theatre impresario. In this sparkling, intimate memoir she recounts her early years in Germany, her family’s flight to London after Hitler came to power, her anti-Nazi broadcasts to the land of her birth, her turbulent loves and family life and the blossoming of her career in film and theatre – from wartime refugee cabaret to the West End. In 1943 she married Irish Spitfire pilot Desmond Leslie, cousin to Winston Churchill, on the first day of peace.

Inventive and resourceful, Agnes performed impromptu cabaret in Barcelona, befriended cat burglars, summered in Cannes and received the affections of, among others, Claus von Bulow and King Farouk. In 1956 she became the first ‘non-stationary nude’ in London theatre. Her original satirical cabaret, based around the work of Brecht and Weil, became the first solo show at Peter Cook’s Establishment in Soho, and later had a three week run in the West End. In 1963 Agnes and Desmond moved finally to Ireland, where they found themselves facing into a troubled decade.

‘She brings to us what seems a full century’s worth of inimitable anecdote: theatre, politics, social contretemps, the joys and miseries of an “open” marriage, the miseries and joys of life in Weimar Germany, Hitler’s Germany, England in World War II, the Riviera and (of course) Ireland. How many of us know how exiled German theatre-folk practised their art in London during the 1940s? Or have heard of the way young actresses were slotted into the war-effort by the U.S. military? Or can guess what it was like to try to finance stage-shows and films in the post-war years of austerity? Agnes knows: she was there, and she did it. … In short, the widest-ranging, most instructive, most appealing theatrical/personal memoir one could possibly imagine.’
– John Arden

‘An expansive tale spanning both the most turbulent years of our century and an intensely personal odyssey.
– Stephen Dodd, Sunday Independent

‘What comes across is the warmth and generosity of her personality and a wonderful capacity for survival.’
– Fergus Linehan, The Irish Times

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2 reviews for The Fun Palace: An Autobiography

  1. Lilliput Press

    “Agnes Bernelle didn’t have an easy life, but I think we can safely assume that she was never bored. Some people have the unique quality of remaining young, at heart, untill the day they die because they keep discovering new things, they keep looking with an open mind. I think actess and singer Agnes Bernelle, born Bernauer, was such a person. Her biography the Fun Palace is not a unique story. In some ways it compares with that of Claire Goll: Growing up in a privileged mixed Jewish family, fleeing abroad after the shattering impact of Hitler coming to power, marrying a adventurising womaniser and finally rising to own acclaim. But Agnes Bernelle lacks the viciousness and bitterness of Yvan Goll’s widow in her discription of others, she doesn’t put herself on a pedestal. She has written a book simply because she had her story to tell.Some of her pain remains understated, you have to read between the lines. The title The Fun Palace is derived from her discription of a ‘Scherzenpalast’ she visited long ago, a fairground attraction were you enter a house which constantly change, where the rooms shrink and expand, and the floors move. Agnes Bernelle was constant in her political beliefs (pacifist) but remained unhampered by dogma. Her life was too varied for that. The Fun Palace is a good read for anyone who is interested in recent European history, in theatre, in feminism, in life. I wish I’d met her when she was alive.” NATASHA GERSON

  2. Lilliput Press

    “Agnes Bernelle (1923-1999) came to my notice as ‘Vicki’ – a German radio presenter on one of Sefton Delmer’s black radio stations broadcasting from the UK to Germany, but unlike Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts coming the other way, pretending to be a German radio station, loyal to the fatherland but a bit indiscreet with news that real stations didn’t get past the censor. But she was much more than that: born in Berlin to a theatre family her whole life revolved around theatres, acting, singing, producing and writing. She never quite ‘made it’ into the movies: a few walk-on and background scenery parts, so the only place to see her is in Sefton Delmer’s ‘this is your life’ on which she re-did her German radio intro with the three kisses. This lady was so full of life and living it so fully, it’s a fast paced read. She doesn’t dwell on any one episode more than another, she loved her father and clearly treasured the occasions that they worked together. Altogether a rattling good read.” RICHARD LAW

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Weight 0.5 kg



230 x 155mm, 256pp