Diary

Alan Bennett

January 1989. The Government ‘profoundly rejects’ the report of the inquiry into the Thames TV programme Death on the Rock. ‘Firmly’ one could understand and ‘passionately’ even, but profoundly? Of course what they actually mean is ‘contemptuously’. Or, in Mrs Thatcher’s case, ‘furiously’.

A man rooting in the dustbin opposite stops suddenly and looks at his watch.

24 February. Single Spies has transferred from the National to the Queen’s and is now previewing, though not without incident. Stage hands in West End theatres are used to long runs and find it hard to turn productions round as deftly as they do in repertory. Tonight, as the lights go down at the end of the first scene of ‘A Question of Attribution’, I wait on the sliding truck for the projection screen to rise before the truck carries me upstage in the black-out. However, the screen does not rise and the truck moves inexorably upstage, which means that the screen demolishes everything in its path. I flatten myself on my desk and hear it swish over my head before catching me a heavy blow on the shoulder. Then, in a sequence reminiscent of A Night at the Opera, thirty or so slides flick rapidly through on the wildly swaying screen, a bookshelf collapses and the Buckingham Palace set descends amid the chaos. When eventually I manage to get off, expecting to find myself the hero of the hour for having sat there as the world collapsed about me, I find that nobody realises I’ve been hurt at all. Later I run into Judi Dench, who says that when she was in The Good Companions she caught her foot in the revolve. It was agonising but she carried on, with the result that nobody was much interested in her injury. Finally she took to limping in order to enlist some sympathy, but gave that up when the director, noticing it for the first time, thought it was part of a developing insight into her character and said: ‘Love the limp, darling.’

10 March. A fat woman stops me in Parkway and puts out her hand. ‘The council’s put me in a hotel, me and my three kids. They said they’d send me my books but they haven’t.’ I give her the coins in my pocket and come away thinking: ‘Well, at least she reads. I’d miss my books too, if I were stuck in some hotel.’ It takes me a time to realise that she is not talking about her treasured copies of Anthony Burgess but her social security books.

12 March. Names of the Albanian Football Team.

The Interpreter: Ilir Agolli.

The Manager: Shyqri Rrelli.

The Goalkeeper: Blendi Nallbani.

2 April. Hotel Terminus, Marcel Ophuls’s documentary on Klaus Barbie, includes an account of how Barbie was spirited away to South America, having been recruited by the FBI, and in their comfortable suburban homes various old FBI agents recount the arrangements they made for Barbie some forty years ago. Similar revelations here would be illegal under Douglas Hurd’s new Secrets Bill. But then, of course, we are a decent nation; we don’t do things like that.

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