‘Gotta Get Theroux This: My Life and Strange Times in Television’ is Louis Theroux’s memoir reflecting on over twenty years of making television documentaries. His career began in 1994 with a one-off segment on Michael Moore’s ‘TV Nation’ on apocalyptic religious sects followed by the ‘Weird Weekends’ series which focused on odd aspects of Americana. More recently, he has moved towards documentaries about hard-hitting topics such as eating disorders and addiction.
The title of the book was chosen as part of Theroux’s efforts to “reclaim” the popular pun on his surname. The son of travel writer Paul Theroux, his childhood characterised by anxiety is dealt with light-heartedly before moving on to his accidental big break in television after a short spell in print journalism in the United States.
Much like Emily Maitlis does in her book Airhead, Theroux offers a fascinating look at the extensive behind-the-scenes preparation ahead of making television programmes with a lot of insight into the documentaries which didn’t get made as well as those which did. It is clear that getting the tone right is a difficult balancing act, particularly now that Theroux has moved towards exploring more serious subjects in a less frivolous way than he was originally known for. He also discusses the challenges of finding a good work/life balance with a growing family alongside a demanding and often unpredictable career.
Theroux reflects candidly and at length on the time he spent with Jimmy Savile for his ‘When Louis Met…’ series of celebrity profiles. They stayed in contact sporadically over the years until Savile’s death in 2011, shortly after which it was revealed that Savile had been a prolific sexual abuser throughout his broadcasting career. Now with the hindsight of the full scale of Savile’s offending, Theroux is extremely perceptive about Savile’s behaviour around him, particularly his tendency to say extremely provocative things under the cover of a joke. Theroux berates himself about a lot of things in this book, but none more so than his failure (as he sees it) to unravel the enigma of Savile, even though he arguably came closer than anyone else to doing this in his original documentary.
While many believe that Theroux adopts a “faux-naïve” persona in front of the camera, his success lies in his authenticity and genuine curiosity about the subjects of his programmes. This is illustrated brilliantly in his entertaining and thoughtfully written memoir.