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Out of the Blue Into the Black by John Spencer

Release date: 21st November, 2005
Publisher: Parrs Wood press

List Price: 17.99
Our Price: 12.59
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Out of the Blue Into the Black
By John Spencer
Parrs Wood Press price: £12.59, saving £5.40 on the published price

John Spencer's name may be synonymous with snooker success, but as a teenager, after having joined the RAF aged 18, he admitted that during his three years in the forces he "never played snooker and completely lost interest in the game."

Spencer's admission was first revealed in Joe Davis's 1976 book, The Breaks Came My Way, a reaction, ironically, to some praiseworthy coverage of his play that had appeared in the Bury Times and which led to his headmaster warning him of the perils of a life in snooker.

Nor was Spencer tempted to return to the green baize when he left the RAF in 1956, until, out of the blue, seven years later, a bookmaker from his home town of Radcliffe in Lancashire enquired whether he would be interested in representing a local club. The call had a massive impact. Snooker's bug had bitten again and within a year, John Spencer had reached the final of the English Amateur Championship where he lost 11-8 to Ray Reardon. He lost again in the final the following year, but on his third successive final appearance in 1966, he finally captured the amateur crown when he defeated Marcus Owen 11-5.

By the early 70s, John Spencer was literally a household name. After turning professional in 1968 following an acrimonious departure from the amateur ranks, he went on to win three world championships and, perhaps just as significantly as snooker was making its dramatic television breakthrough, three of the BBC's 'Pot Black' tournaments.

Like any over-achiever, Spencer's professional career is a golden trail of trophies, prizes and awards, but Out of the Blue offers more than a story of success, something which is evident from the autobiography's opening lines.

"The worst day of my life," writes Spencer in the book's first paragraph, "was May 9, 1985." The Lancastrian was playing in a tournament at Pontin's holiday camp in Prestatyn, situated on the north Wales coast, when he suddenly felt tired, a feeling he attributed to having consumed too much booze the night before. But his double vision had little to do with a heavy night nor diabetes as he first feared, although it was only a few weeks later that he was eventually diagnosed as having Myasthenia Gravis (MG).

The illness's defining feature is a painless muscle weakness which fluctuates in its severity. Initially, as was the case with Spencer, symptoms manifest themselves in the form of double vision or drooping eyelids, although only some 15% of sufferers are diagnosed with ocular myasthenia, the clinical variant of the disease which weakens the eye muscles. When he discovered this, Spencer admits to being quite pleased as MG can attack the whole body, although the impact of the illness upon his snooker career was to prove as dramatic as the call from the Radcliffe bookie over twenty years earlier.

Readers will feel that by introducing the illness on the first page, Spencer has proved as shrewd as he ever was at the snooker table; the drugs he had to take to ward off MG's debilitating effects caused deep depressions and some wholly irrational behaviour, as an icy episode with decorators at his home shows. It also means we look at Spencer in a completely different light - not as some retired personality who has decided to cash in by publishing his memoirs, but as a man who now spends much of his time supporting the Myasthenia Gravis Association and to which some of this witty, honest and occasionally sad book's proceeds will be donated.

For more information, readers may want to contact the MG Association:

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