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Agate, published in 1986, was Harding's first biography set against the backdrop of early 20th century British theatre.  
Reviews of Agate
'...admirably recounted, and the author managed to convey an impression of great vitality and talent while sparing no detail...remarkable perception.' John Gielgud, The Spectator
'Admirably faithful, and has its own entertainment as well as its subject's.  A dry approach, a sharp eye for illuminating anecdotes, snippets and titbits of wit...These vastly wide and disparate gleanings he marshals into a seamless whole.' Basil Boothroyd, The Times
'Agate would have been pleased with a biography as frank, acerbic and crisp as anything he himself produced on his favourite subject - himself." Francis King, Daily Telegraph
The book
Harding's biography was the first full and unexpurgated biography of James Agate (1877 - 1947).  Drawing on a wide range of sources from unpublished personal papers, the reminiscences of family, friends, camp-followers and bedfellows, it depicts Agate's riotous career first as Manchester cotton merchant, then as Lambeth shopkeeper, and finally as London celebrity who resembled nothing so much as a florid bookmaker. Harding's perceptive book offers a vivid portrait of a roué, a spendthrift and a journalist, who reckoned, all told, to have written over seven million words, and whose prolific output consistutes an unrivalled source for anyone interested in the theatre.  This highly enjoyable book recreates the hectic atmosphere in which Agate lived and brings to life the paradoxical blend of extravagance and meanness, egotism and humility, which comprised his outsize character - a character that positively leaps off the page in all its indomitable, even sometimes grotesque vitality.    
The man
James Agate, the eldest son of Charles James Agate, worked for seventeen years in his father's cotton business before joining the Manchester Guardian, where he wrote a weekly theatre column.  After a stint in the army during World War One, a series of open letters about his experiences were later published in his first book L. of C. (Lines of Communication), Agate became the most influential drama critic of the time, whose column in the Sunday Times was for a quarter of a century the widest-read of its kind.  He was the archetypal 'man about town' - wit, spendthrift, homosexual, eccentric, gossip-monger, friend and acquaintance of the rich and famous, and frequenter of opera house, theatre, club and brothel.  Agate was also a man with a genius for friendship: he knew Sarah Bernhardt and Arnold Bennett; he was the intimate of Hugh Walpole, Edgar Wallace and Seymour Hicks and he enjoyed the acquaintance of such monstres sacrés as Madge Kendal, Marie Tempest and Sir John Martin-Harvey.  His personal circle included the acid-tongued Leo Pavia, "a Jewish Dr Johnson", his gentle amanuensis, Alan Dent, and a retinue of rent-boys.