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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alan Bennett
Born 9 May 1934 (1934-05-09) (age 75)
Armley, Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Occupation Actor, author
Years active 1960 - present

Alan Bennett (born 9 May 1934) is an English author, actor, humorist and playwright.


Early years

Bennett was born in Armley in Leeds, West Yorkshire. The son of a co-op butcher, Bennett attended Leeds Modern School (now Lawnswood School), learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists during his National Service, and gained a place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.[1] However, having spent time in Cambridge during national service, and partly wishing to follow the object of his unrequited love, he decided to apply for a scholarship at Oxford University. He was accepted by Exeter College, Oxford from which he graduated with a first-class degree in history. While at Oxford he performed comedy with a number of eventually successful actors in the Oxford Revue. He was to remain at the university for several years, where he researched and taught Medieval History, before deciding he was not cut out to be an academic.


In August 1960, Bennett, along with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Peter Cook, achieved instant fame by appearing at the Edinburgh Festival in the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe. After the Festival, the show continued in London and New York. He also appeared in My Father Knew Lloyd George. A highly regarded television comedy sketch series On the Margin (1966) was, unfortunately, erased: the BBC would habitually re-use the then-expensive videotape rather than keep it in the archives.

Around this time Bennett often found himself playing vicars, and claims that as an adolescent he assumed he would grow up to be a Church of England clergyman, for no better reason than that he looked like one.

Bennett's first stage play, Forty Years On directed by Patrick Garland was produced in 1968. Many television, stage and radio plays followed, along with screenplays, short stories, novellas, a large body of non-fictional prose and broadcasting, and many appearances as an actor.

Bennett's lugubrious yet expressive voice (which still bears a slight Leeds accent) and the sharp humour and evident humanity of his writing have made his readings of his own work (especially his autobiographical writing) very popular. His readings of the Winnie the Pooh stories are also widely enjoyed.

Many of Bennett's characters are unfortunate and downtrodden, or meek and overlooked. Life has brought them to an impasse, or else passed them by altogether. In many cases they have met with disappointment in the realm of sex and intimate relationships, largely through tentativeness and a failure to connect with others.

Bennett is both unsparing and compassionate in laying bare his characters' frailties. This can be seen in his television plays for LWT in the late 1970s and the BBC in the early 1980s, and in the 1987 Talking Heads series of monologues for television which were later performed at the Comedy Theatre in London in 1992. This was a sextet of poignantly comic pieces, each of which depicted several stages in the character's decline from an initial state of denial or ignorance of their predicament, through a slow realization of the hopelessness of their situation, and progressing to a bleak or ambiguous conclusion. A second set of six Talking Heads pieces followed a decade later.

In his 2005 prose collection Untold Stories Bennett has written candidly and movingly of the mental illness that afflicted his mother and other family members. Much of his work draws on his Leeds background and while he is celebrated for his acute observations of a particular type of northern speech ("It'll take more than Dairy Box to banish memories of Pearl Harbor"), the range and daring of his work is often undervalued – his television play The Old Crowd, for example, includes shots of the director and technical crew, while his stage play The Lady in the Van includes two characters named Alan Bennett.

The Lady in the Van was based on his experiences with a tramp called Miss Shepherd who lived on Bennett's driveway in several dilapidated vans for over fifteen years. A radio play of the same title was broadcast on 21 February 2009 on BBC Radio 4, with actor Maggie Smith reprising her role of Miss Shepherd, and Alan Bennett playing himself. The work has also been published in book form.

In 1994 Bennett adapted his popular and much-praised 1991 play The Madness of George III for the cinema as The Madness of King George. The film received four Academy Award nominations, including nominations for Bennett's writing and the performances of Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren. It won the award for best art direction.

Bennett's critically-acclaimed The History Boys won three Laurence Olivier Awards in February 2005, for Best New Play, Best Actor (Richard Griffiths), and Best Direction (Nicholas Hytner), having previously won Critics' Circle Theatre Awards and Evening Standard Awards for Best Actor and Best Play. Bennett himself received the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre.[2]

The History Boys also went on to win six Tony Awards on Broadway, including best play, best performance by a leading actor in a play (Richard Griffiths), best performance by a featured actress in a play (Frances de la Tour), and best direction of a play (Nicholas Hytner).

A film version of The History Boys was released in the UK on 13 October 2006. Bennett discussed the play and its themes in an interview on STV.[3]

Bennett was made an Honorary Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford in 1987. He was also awarded a D.Litt by the University of Leeds in 1990 and a hon PhD from Kingston in 1996. However in 1998 Bennett refused an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, in protest at its accepting funding for a named chair in honour of press baron Rupert Murdoch.[4] He also declined a CBE in 1988 and a knighthood in 1996.

In September 2005, Bennett revealed that, in 1997, he had undergone treatment for cancer, and described the illness as a "bore". His chances of survival were given as being "much less" than 50%.[5] He began Untold Stories (published 2005) thinking it would be published posthumously. In the event his cancer went into remission. In the autobiographical sketches which form a large part of the book Bennett writes openly for the first time about his homosexuality (Bennett has had relationships with women as well, although this is only touched upon in Untold Stories). Previously Bennett had referred to questions about his sexuality as being like asking a man dying of thirst to choose between Perrier or Malvern mineral water.[6]

Bennett earned Honorary Membership of The Coterie in the 2007 membership list.

Bennett has lived in Camden Town in London for thirty one years, and shares his home with Rupert Thomas, his partner for the last fourteen years.

In October 2008 Bennett announced that he was donating his entire archive of working papers, unpublished manuscripts, diaries and books to the Bodleian Library free of charge, stating that it was a gesture of thanks repaying a debt he felt he owed to the UK's social welfare system that had given him educational opportunities which his humble family background would otherwise never have afforded.[7]

Bennett wrote the play Enjoy in 1980. It was one of the rare flops in his career and barely scraped a run of seven weeks at the Vaudeville Theatre, in spite of the stellar cast of Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely, Susan Littler, Philip Sayer, Liz Smith (who replaced Joan Hickson during rehearsals) and in his first West End role Marc Sinden. It was directed by Ronald Eyre.[8] But a new production of Enjoy has had critics raving about it during its 2008 UK tour[9] and moved to the West End of London in January 2009.[10] The West End show had taken over £1m in advance ticket sales[11] and even extended the run to cope with demand.[12] Starring Alison Steadman, David Troughton & Julian Pindar.

At the National Theatre in late 2009 Nicholas Hytner is scheduled to direct Bennett's new play, The Habit of Art, about the relationship between the poet W. H. Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten.[13]

Awards and honours

Bennett was made an Honorary Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford in 1987. He was also awarded a D.Litt by the University of Leeds in 1990 and an Hon. PhD from Kingston in 1996.

However in 1998 Bennett refused an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, in protest at its accepting funding for a named chair in honour of press baron Rupert Murdoch.[14] He also declined a CBE in 1988 and a knighthood in 1996.



  • My Father Knew Lloyd George (also writer), 1965
  • Famous Gossips, 1965
  • Plato—The Drinking Party, 1965
  • Alice in Wonderland, 1966
  • On the Margin series (actor & writer), 1966-67
  • A Day Out (also writer), 1972
  • Sunset Across the Bay (also writer), 1975
  • A Little Outing (also writer), 1975
  • A Visit from Miss Prothero (writer), 1978
  • Me—I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (writer), 1978
  • Doris and Doreen (Green Forms) (writer), 1978
  • The Old Crowd (writer) with Lindsay Anderson (director), LWT 1979
  • Afternoon Off (actor & writer), 1979
  • One Fine Day (writer), 1979
  • All Day On the Sands (writer), 1979
  • Objects of Affection (also writer), 1982
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor (actor), 1982
  • An Englishman Abroad (writer), 1983
  • The Insurance Man (writer), 1986




  • The Great Jowett, 1980
  • Dragon, 1982
  • Uncle Clarence (writer, narrator), 1985
  • Better Halves (narrator), 1988
  • The Lady in the Van (writer, narrator), 1990
  • Winnie-the-Pooh (narrator), 1990
  • Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass (narrator, BBC Audiobooks)


The gravestone, in Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) cemetery, of Alan Bennett's Uncle Clarence, subject of a 1985 radio monologue.
  • Beyond the Fringe (with Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore). London: Souvenir Press, 1962, and New York: Random House, 1963
  • Forty Years On. London: Faber, 1969
  • Getting On. London: Faber, 1972
  • Habeas Corpus. London: Faber, 1973
  • The Old Country. London: Faber, 1978
  • Enjoy. London: Faber, 1980
  • Office Suite. London: Faber, 1981
  • Objects of Affection. London: BBC Publications, 1982
  • A Private Function. London: Faber, 1984
  • Forty Years On; Getting On; Habeas Corpus. London: Faber, 1985
  • The Writer in Disguise. London: Faber, 1985
  • Prick Up Your Ears: The Film Screenplay. London: Faber, 1987
  • Two Kafka Plays. London: Faber, 1987
  • Talking Heads. London: BBC Publications, 1988; New York: Summit, 1990
  • Single Spies. London: Faber, 1989
    • Winner of Olivier Award: England's best comedy for 1989
  • Single Spies and Talking Heads. New York: Summit, 1990
  • The Lady in the Van, 1989
  • Poetry in Motion (with others). 1990
  • The Wind in the Willows. London: Faber, 1991
  • Forty Years On and Other Plays. London: Faber, 1991
  • The Madness of George III. London: Faber, 1992
  • Poetry in Motion 2 (with others). 1992
  • Writing Home (memoir & essays). London: Faber, 1994 (winner of the 1995 British Book of the Year award).
  • The Madness of King George (screenplay), 1995
  • Father ! Father ! Burning Bright (prose version of 1982 TV script, Intensive Care), 1999
  • The Laying on of Hands (Stories), 2000
  • The Clothes They Stood Up In (novella), 2001
  • Untold Stories (autobiographical and essays), London, 2005, ISBN 0-571-22830-5
  • The Uncommon Reader (novella), London, 2007
  • A Life Like Other People's (memoir), London, 2009


  • Una lectora poc corrent, 2008
  • Soins intensifs, 2006
  • Der Rote Baron, Sein letzter Flug, 2001
  • Vater, Vater, lichterloh, 2002
  • Così fan tutte, (previously published as Alle Jahre wieder) 2003
  • Die Lady im Lieferwagen, 2004
  • Handauflegen, 2005
  • Die souveräne Leserin, 2008
  • La pazzia di re Giorgio, 1996
  • Nudi e crudi, 2001
  • La cerimonia del massaggio, 2002
  • La signora nel furgone, 2003
  • Signore e signori, 2004
  • Scritto sul corpo, 2006
  • La sovrana lettrice, 2007
  • Il letto di lenticchie
  • Una Patata Frita en el Azúcar, 2003
  • Una Cama Entre Lentejas, 2003
  • Una Señora de Letras, 2003
  • Su Gran Oportunidad, 2003
  • Ir Tirando, 2003
  • Una Galleta Crácker Bajo el Sofá, 2003
  • Una Mujer Sin Importancia, 2003
  • Con lo puesto, 2003 (The Clothes They Stood Up In)
  • La Señora del Furgón, 2004
  • La Mano de Dios, 2004
  • La Señorita Fozzard Hace Pie, 2004
  • Jugando a los Bocadillos, 2004
  • Una lectora nada común", 2008
  • El Perro en el Patio, 2004
  • Noches en los Jardines de España, 2004
  • Esperando el Telegrama, 2004


  1. ^ Alan Bennett, The History Boys, Introduction, Faber and Faber, British edition, 2004.
  2. ^ Jury, Louise."Historic night for Alan Bennett as his new play dominates the Olivier awards", The Independent, London, 21 February 2005.
  3. ^ Alan Bennett: The History Boys
  4. ^ "Bennett snubs Oxford over Murdoch chair", BBC News Online, London, 15 January 1999.
  5. ^ "Alan Bennett reveals cancer fight", BBC News Online, London, 24 September 2005.
  6. ^ "Inside Bennett's fridge", Daily Telegraph, London, 30 October 2004.
  7. ^ Kennedy, Maev. "A small way of saying thank you: Bennett donates his life's work to the Bodleian", The Guardian, London, 24 October 2008.
  8. ^ Shenton, Mark."Which flops are ripe for revival?", Theatre Blog, 28 August 2008.
  9. ^ Enjoy Tour information
  10. ^ Enjoy heads to the London West End
  11. ^ BBC Video: Curtain re-opens on Bennett Play
  12. ^ West End Enjoy run is extended
  13. ^ "Nicholas Hytner on his time at the National Theatre", The Times, London, 9 February 2009.
  14. ^ "Bennett snubs Oxford over Murdoch chair", BBC News Online, London, 15 January 1999.

Further reading

  • Peter Wolfe, Understanding Alan Bennett, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 1-57003-280-7.
  • Alexander Games (2001). Backing Into The Limelight: The Biography of Alan Bennett. Headline. ISBN 0-7472-7030-9.  
  • Joseph H. O'Mealy,Alan Bennett: A Critical Introduction, Routledge, 2007.
  • Kara McKechnie, Alan Bennett, The Television Series, Manchester University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7190-6806-5
  • Robert Hewison Footlights – A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy, Methuen, 1983
  • Roger Wilmut From Fringe to Flying Circus – Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960–1980, Eyre Methuen, 1980

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Alan Bennett (born 1934-05-09) is an English playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, essayist and actor. His works include Forty Years On, An Englishman Abroad, Talking Heads, A Question of Attribution and The Madness of King George.

See also Beyond the Fringe and The History Boys.



  • Geoff: We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn't obey the rules.
    • Getting On, Act 1 (1972)
  • Polly: Education with socialists, it's like sex, all right as long as you don't have to pay for it.
    • Getting On, Act 1
  • I lack what the English call character, by which they mean the power to refrain.
    • An Englishman Abroad (1983)
  • That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water.

Forty Years On (1972)

Quotations are cited from Plays One (London, [1991] 1996)

  • Headmaster: I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment.
    • Act 1, p. 40
  • Headmaster: Clad in the magnificent white silk robes of an Arab prince, with in his belt the short curved, gold sword of the Ashraf descendants of the Prophet, he hoped to pass unnoticed through London. Alas, he was mistaken. "Who am I?" he would cry despairingly. "You are Lawrence of Arabia" passers-by would stop him and say, "And I claim my five pounds."
    • Act 1, p. 56.
  • Headmaster: They were all socialists. Why is it always the intelligent people who are socialists?
  • Schoolmaster: But God, whatever else He is, and of course He is everything else, is not a fool.
    • Act 2, p. 78.
  • Franklin: Have you ever thought, Headmaster, that your standards might perhaps be a little out of date?
    Headmaster: Of course they're out of date. Standards always are out of date. That is what makes them standards.
    • Act 2, p. 80.
  • Headmaster: Mark my words, when a society has to resort to the lavatory for its humour, the writing is on the wall.
    • Act 2, p. 80.
  • Franklin: Sapper, Buchan, Dornford Yates, practitioners in that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good-class tweed through twentieth-century literature.
    • Act 2
    • Bennett is often credited with having coined the pun "snobbery with violence", though he himself pointed out in Writing Home (1994), p. 199, that the phrase had been used by Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk in 1932 as the title of a pamphlet.

Writing Home (1994)

  • I tried to explain to her the significance of the great poet, but without much success, The Waste Land not figuring very largely in Mam's scheme of things.
    "The thing is," I said finally, "he won the Nobel Prize."
    "Well," she said, with that unerring grasp of inessentials which is the prerogative of mothers, "I’m not surprised. It was a beautiful overcoat."
    • Introduction, p. x (1994)
  • He had never read Proust, but he had somehow taken a short cut across the allotments and arrived at the same conclusions.
  • An article on playwrights in the Daily Mail, listed according to Hard Left, Soft Left, Hard Right, Soft Right and Centre. I am not listed. I should probably come under Soft Centre.
    • Diary entry for November 11, 1981, p. 117
  • The majority of people perform well in a crisis and when the spotlight is on them; it's on the Sunday afternoons of this life, when nobody is looking, that the spirit falters.
    • Diary entry for October 13, 1984, pp. 137-138
  • To play Trivial Pursuit with a life like mine could be said to be a form of homeopathy.
    • Diary entry for June 7, 1985, p. 143
  • We have fish and chips, which W. and I fetch from the shop in Settle market-place. Some local boys come in and there is a bit of chat between them and the fish-fryer about whether the kestrel under the counter is for sale.…Only when I mention it to W. does he explain Kestrel is now a lager. I imagine the future is going to contain an increasing number of incidents like this, culminating with a man in a white coat saying to one kindly, "And now can you tell me the name of the Prime Minister?"
    • Diary entry for July 25, 1985, p. 144
  • Kafka could never have written as he did had he lived in a house. His writing is that of someone whose whole life was spent in apartments, with lifts, stairwells, muffled voices behind closed doors, and sounds through walls. Put him in a nice detached villa and he’d never have written a word.
    • Diary entry for June 27, 1988, p. 177
  • I have no doubt that in heaven the angels will regard the blessed as a necessary evil.
    • Diary entry for August 9, 1985, p. 290
  • One of the good things about Larkin is that he still has you firmly by the hand as you cross the finishing-line, whereas reading Auden is like doing a parachute-drop: for a while the view is wonderful, but then you end up on your back in the middle of a ploughed field and in the wrong county.
    • "Instead of a Present", p. 323 (1982)
  • The Channel is a slipper-bath of irony through which we pass these serious Continentals in order not to be infected by their gloom.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 335 (1987)
  • He is interested in the feelings of the squash ball, and of the champagne bottle that launches the ship. In a football match his sympathy is not with either of the teams but with the ball, or, in a match ending nil-nil, with the hunger of the goalmouth.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 336
  • However, living in Tel Aviv, he was spared the fate of equivalent figures in English culture, an endless round of arts programmes where those who have known the famous are publicly debriefed of their memories, knowing as their own dusk falls that they will be remembered only for remembering someone else.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 347
    • Referring to Max Brod
  • Our father the novelist; my husband the poet. He belongs to the ages – just don't catch him at breakfast. Artists, celebrated for their humanity, they turn out to be scarcely human at all.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 348
  • Schweitzer in the Congo did not derive more moral credit than Larkin did for living in Hull.
    • "Alas! Deceived", p. 367 (1993)
  • Writer: I don’t know whether you've ever looked into a miner's eyes – for any length of time, that is. Because it is the loveliest blue you've ever seen. I think perhaps that's why I live in Ibiza, because the blue of the Mediterranean, you see, reminds me of the blue of the eyes of those Doncaster miners.
    • "The Pith and its Pitfalls", p. 384 (1981)
  • Writer: What, above all, I'm primarily concerned with is the substance of life, the pith of reality. If I had to sum up my work, that's it, really. I'm taking the pith out of reality.
    • "The Pith and its Pitfalls", p. 384 (1981)
  • If you find yourself born in Barnsley and then set your sights on being Virginia Woolf it is not going to be roses all the way.
    • "The Pith and its Pitfalls", p. 385 (1981)

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