Diaries of actor who inspired Withnail and I could fetch £18,000 at auction

Diaries of the actor who inspired the classic film Withnail and I are expected to fetch up to £18,000 when they go to auction.

Vivian MacKerrell was a major inspiration for the character of Withnail, and now fans will be able to bid on his musings at Sotheby’s in London, where they are predicted to make between £12,000 and £18,000.

The 1987 film stars Richard E Grant and Paul McGann as two struggling actors, Withnail and Marwood, who retreat to a country house in an attempt to escape their hedonistic lifestyles in 1960s London, but the pair’s holiday turns disastrous as they get into scrapes with locals and continue to drink heavily.

Two pages from MacKerrell's diary
MacKerrell’s diary details a number of real-life incidents which made it into the film (Sotheby’s/PA)

MacKerrell’s notes give a first-hand account of real-life versions of scenes from the film, such as him drinking a can of lighter fluid and visiting wolves in Regent’s Park.

The actor, who died in 1995, had shared a house in Camden Town with the film’s writer and director Bruce Robinson, who the film’s Marwood character was based on, where they lived in similar squalor to the film’s main characters.

The two diaries going to auction cover the years 1974 and 1975, and even mention that Robinson was writing Withnail and I.

One excerpt reads: “Up at about 9.30 to go down to sign on with B(ruce). The labour (exchange) seemed fuller than usual – they’ve cutdown on staff – the buggers.

“After a pint, I read and corrected more of Withnail and I, his book and when he came back we opened the bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse that L had put out in the windowbox to chill.”

They have never been seen outside of MacKerrell’s friends and family, and give fresh insight into the inspiration behind the film, as the actor speaks about his mouse-ridden flat, his 30th birthday and feelings about seeing friends move on with their lives.

Despite the film ending when the character based on Robinson moves out, the diaries continue after his departure and show that MacKerrell continued living in the same squalid home, but with new housemates, continuing his heavy drinking and drug-taking.

The diaries also record MacKerrell’s dreams, a list of songs, miscellaneous notes, creative writing in prose and draft letters.

A set of photographs of MacKerrell, including unseen negatives from a Vogue photoshoot, will also be included with the two diaries.

Sotheby’s books and manuscripts specialist, Dr Gabriel Heaton, said: “Vivian MacKerrell’s diaries are a wonderful discovery.

“They preserve a witty, acrid, unapologetic and melancholy voice, and describe a squalid bohemian lifestyle that is instantly recognisable to lovers of Withnail and I.

“It is a great privilege to be afforded this insight into the inspiration and background to one of the greatest of modern British films – indeed into the moment that Bruce Robinson began to write his first version of Withnail and I, which is recorded in the diaries themselves.

“The diaries are also a touching tribute to MacKerrell’s friendship with Bruce Robinson, and the impact they had on each other’s lives.

“Almost 40 years on, Withnail and I remains entrenched in our consciousness – the recent stage adaptation shows the strong appeal it still retains – and these diaries allow us to better understand and celebrate one of the real-life characters who inspired it.”

Bidding begins on Wednesday, June 26, and ends on Thursday, July 11.