Diary

Alan Bennett

13 January. Having supper in the National Theatre restaurant are Lindsay Anderson and Gavin Lambert. ‘I suppose you like this place,’ says Lindsay. I do, actually, as the food is now very good. I say so and Lindsay, who judges all restaurants by the standard of the Cosmo in Finchley Road, smiles wearily, pleased to be reassured about one’s moral decline.

Gavin L. is en route for Tangier to see Paul Bowles. I say that Bowles must be quite old now.

‘Yes,’ says Gavin, ‘82.’

‘That’s not so old,’ says Lindsay.

‘Well it’s a funny age, 82,’ says Gavin. ‘I’ve known several people of 82 who haven’t made it to 83.’

I don’t think this is meant as a joke.

15 January. Go into the chemist in Camden High Street to find a down-at-heel young man not quite holding the place to ransom but effectively terrorising the shop. He keeps pulling items off the shelves, and waving them in the face of the blonde assistant saying: ‘This is mine. And this is mine. The whole shop’s mine. It’s bought with my money. So don’t you order me out of the shop, you fucking cow. I allow you to work here.’ The mild, rather donnish Asian pharmacist is a bit nonplussed and as he serves me I offer to go next door to Marks and Spencer for their security man. But the blonde assistant is pluckily standing her ground. The young man has a really mean face and the pharmacist thinks the best thing is to wait until he goes. Which he is doing when he spots a small woman in her sixties at the other end of the counter looking at cosmetics. ‘And that goes for you too,’ he says, shoving his face into hers and taking a handful of eyeliners.

Suddenly the little lady erupts.

‘Right,’ she says, ‘I’m a policewoman,’ and she brandishes her identification in his face as they do in police series. ‘You’re nicked.’ She isn’t exactly an intimidating figure and he’s practically out of the shop now anyway but it seems to decide him – he darts off into the bustle of the High Street. ‘I wasn’t having any truck with that,’ says the unlikely policewoman, putting away what quite plainly was her bus pass, and gets on with buying some face cream.

The moral being, I suppose, that you can get good behaviour off the television as well as bad.

20 January. At Paddington a throng of bewildered travellers gaze up at the Departures Board, where there’s a bland announcement saying that due to building work at Heathrow many services have been re-scheduled earlier than in the timetable – i.e. everybody misses their train. I sit down meaning to have some coffee from my flask only to find it’s broken (an old-fashioned accident, breaking flasks something I associate with the Forties). I wander round the station with the dripping flask looking for a litter bin but because of the risk of bombs there are none. I can’t just put the flask discreetly down lest it be mistaken for a bomb itself and the whole station grind to a halt, so it’s ten minutes before I find a railwayman who will take it off me, by which time my train is in.

25 January. Having spoken at Norwich I trek across England to Birmingham to speak there, never more conscious of Larkin’s strictures about going round the country pretending to be oneself. It’s a beautiful morning, the flat fields made dramatic and Dutch by floods and huge skies, but the whole journey ruined by two schoolboys going off for university interviews. They try and impress one another with their knowledge of current affairs and hone their interview techniques. ‘I like that Michael Howard,’ says one. ‘And Kenneth Clarke’s a good bloke too.’ Neither boy, I suppose, has ever known anything but a Tory government nor by the sound of it ever wants to.

At Birmingham I have a session with David Edgar’s playwrights’ class, then do another ‘Our Alan’ performance for a more general audience.

26 January. Run into Tristram Powell. Andrew Devonshire (sic) has done a diary for the Spectator mentioning the memoir of Julian Jebb (edited by Tristram) as one of the books he was putting in the guest bedrooms at Chatsworth. ‘I wish he’d leave a copy in all the bedrooms,’ drawls Tristram. ‘Then it would be a best-seller.’

Take the second draft of the filmscript of The Madness of George III to be printed. Nick Hytner has the good idea of fetching the King back from Kew to Westminster to prove to the MPs that he has recovered from his madness. Of course, it never happened, and had he suggested this departure from the facts at the outset, I’d probably have demurred on grounds of historical accuracy. But the nearer one gets to production the bolder one gets. I hope it’s boldness anyway.

23 February. Derek Jarman has died. I liked his writing more than I did his films though I wish he had made the film which he once asked me to write, about his father, a Battle of Britain pilot who turned kleptomaniac in his old age. Jarman dies on the eve of the fudged Commons vote which reduces the age of male consent to 18 not 16. Anyone in any doubt should have compared the speech by the civilised and courageous Chris Smith with that of the bigot Tony Marlowe. ‘Predatory’ is a word much in evidence, the frail faltering flame of heterosexuality always in danger of being snuffed out by the hot homosexual wind.

You are not logged in