Book group: Pru and Me

We read Timothy West’s book about life with his wife Prunella Scales, including since she developed dementia.

Actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales have been delighting audiences since their acting debuts in the 1950s. 

Pru is probably best known for her role as Sybil Fawlty, acting alongside John Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Timothy has appeared in a variety of TV programmes and soaps. 

Timothy and Pru married in 1963 and their relationship is the basis of the book Pru and Me

In it, Timothy talks about their personal and professional lives together and life since Pru’s vascular dementia diagnosis in 2014.

Pru and Me, by Timothy West

Frances, in County Down, was pleasantly surprised by the book. 

‘I usually prefer biographies or autobiographies of a more historical – rather than show business – nature, but read this book because I was aware of Pru and Timothy’s dementia journey,’ she says. 

‘I thought I might find the references to Timothy’s show business friends and colleagues irritating, but he has such an engaging style of writing that I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.’

Love story 

‘This was not just a book about dementia, it is a love story where one of the characters develops dementia,’ Frances says. 

‘Tim’s love for Pru shines through in his writing. 

I particularly loved the letters that Pru and Tim exchanged when they were working on different projects and could not be together. These were funny, affectionate and sometimes slightly more serious.

Frances appreciated Tim’s honesty about sometimes losing his patience when Pru forgot things or repeated herself. 

‘Timothy acknowledges that he and Pru were able to continue living what was, for them, a normal life for many years,’ Frances says. ‘For many this isn’t the case, and they might not think the book paints a true picture about life with dementia. 

‘But Pru and Me is the story of one couple’s dementia journey and is as valid as any other.’

Frankness about dementia

Gillian Andrew, in London, once met Timothy and has enjoyed TV programmes featuring the couple, including Great Canal Journeys. This continued for several years following Pru’s dementia diagnosis until her health declined. 

‘I was always touched and impressed by Timothy and Pru when watching their programmes,’ Gillian says. ‘Not least Pru’s continuing ability to recite quotes from memory. 

I saw some parallels between Pru and my mother – who had Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years – and was very interested to read about Pru’s portrayal of the late Queen and their subsequent meeting. 

‘The insight into background preparations and rehearsals for TV and other filming in the book made me realise how much more went into these activities than I had appreciated. 

‘The chapter on “Moving up a Generation” is something I’m reluctantly beginning to have to identify with, but I refuse to be considered elderly in my early 70s! 

‘The chapter “Dealing with Dementia” was very frank. 

‘Having seen how lovingly and patiently my father cared for my mother, I identified very much with Tim’s comments and the gradual – if inevitable – change in relationship between a devoted couple. 

‘It was heartening to read that Pru and Tim have continued to try and lead as active and enjoyable a life as possible for as long as possible.’ 

Different experiences 

Debra, in Northampton, enjoyed reading about the actors’ lives together but felt the book could have focused more on dementia. 

‘It is a beautiful book about their lives – such amazing talent,’ says Debra, ‘but I had expected and hoped for more about dementia. So, in that respect only, I was a little disappointed.’ 

Rachel Edgington agreed that dementia itself wasn’t dealt with in great depth, though she enjoyed the biographical details. 

She says, ‘The early chapters were very interesting, including the couple’s family history, stories of theatre tours and their own developing personal relationship. 

Both Tim and Pru came across as interesting people. I am left wanting to watch more of their work and would love to be invited to one of their garden parties! 

‘As a dementia carer, I was disappointed that the issue was only lightly touched upon. 

‘Although we got a hint of some of the difficulties faced by Timothy and Pru, I felt richness could have been added by exploring this more. 

‘Their experience is not necessarily relatable. For example, Timothy talks about adventurous holidays they have had together since Pru’s diagnosis. 

‘Overall, I enjoyed the book. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys biographies or the theatre, though not necessarily to those looking to read more about dementia.’

Pru and Me, by Timothy West (Michael Joseph 2023), 352 pages, £22.00 (prices vary), ISBN 9780241629550. Also available as an ebook and audiobook.

Your turn

For our next book group, we invite you to read Dementia: Everything Your Doctor Doesn’t Have Time to Tell You, by Matt Piccaver (Sheldon 2020), 112 pages, £9.99 (prices vary), ISBN 9781847094827. Also available as an ebook. 

Tell us what you think about this guide for people dealing with a dementia diagnosis, written by a busy family GP. Email us by the end of 3 March 2024 or comment below. 

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Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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