Reading Alan Bennett's Untold Stories I am struck by how many similarities there are between his family life and mine. His mother, like mine, was in and out of mental health care for "depression" (sic) and was frequently subjected to shock treatment. He, like me, was the first in the family to go to University - "all that brain work, not good for you son" said my father, could have been Alan's. His father, like mine, was taciturn. He lived in Leeds and me in Bradford, but we share patterns of growing up - school, cinema going, library use, holiday destinations. Interesting.
I dont have his talent. He is, in my view, Britain's greatest living writer for the stage and diarist (now that Lees Milne is no longer with us). He is able to turn his wry eye for observation into drama's that touch our hearts - Talking Heads 1 and 2 are strong examples of this, but so too are Kafka's Dick and Madness of King George III.
But for me, his observations in his diaries are powerful and effective and very funny. Take for example this exchange:
Motorist to Pedestrian: Excuse me, do you know the Bradford turn-off?
Pedestrian: Better ought to, I'm married to her!
Which is a typical Bennet "evesdropping". Another I like is between two elderly women. One asks the other "Elspeth, who was it that painted the Cistene Chappel?" and the other replies "Oh, Edith, I'm not sure - was it Underwoods of Bramley?".
He also comments on the fact that Lord Webber (Andrew Lloyd Webber of old) bought a Canaletti painting for several millions of pounds using a credit card so that he could get the air miles. Talk aboiut cheap!
His reflections on his self and his public image are interesting and powerful.
Just before we returned to Edmonton from our sojourn in Harrogate, we went to an evening with Alan Bennett in which he read and commented on some of his work and then answered questions from the audience. I asked him a question about the rumour I had heard that he was invited to appear on Big Brother, but had turned it down. I asked if it was true, and what excuse he'd given. It was true that he'd been invited, His excuse was this: Mrs Hilda Higginbottom was the last tripe dresser working in Leeds market. For many years he has been asking her to teach him the skill of tripe dressing so that the skill wouldnt be lost - and finally she had agreed. The only time she could "fit him in" conflicted with the start of big brother, so he had to make a choice...
Another little story. Following the appearance of Untold Stories, Britain's Daily Telegraph had arranged an interview with him. A few days before the interview, the Telegraph published a review of his book in which the reviewer used the phrase "the winsome Alan Bennett". Bennett cancelled the interview with a note saying "winsome, lose some". Ah Alan.