Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett’s first play, Forty Years On, was produced in 1968; his most recent, Allelujah!, in 2018. His annual diary has appeared in the LRB since 1983. The Lady in the Van was first published in the paper, and the LRB has also carried some of his Talking Heads monologues, as well as short stories, pieces of memoir and reviews. House Arrest: Pandemic Diaries came out in 2022.

Diary: On failing to impress the queen

Alan Bennett, 5 January 2023

10 September. I must be one of the very few of the late queen’s subjects to have said – or almost said – the word ‘erection’ in her presence. It was in 1961 in London’s Fortune Theatre where I was appearing with my colleagues and co-writers Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore in Beyond the Fringe. It was a smash hit, with every night the audience studded with celebrities, and accordingly at one performance there was the queen. My particular tour de force in the second half was an Anglican sermon, which always went well. Less successful, earlier in the show, was a monologue – stand-up it would be called today – on the subject of corporal and capital punishment, both in those days still going strong. Young enough then to believe that theatre and indeed satire could do some good, I was proud of this piece, though it garnered few laughs and was referred to by the rest of the cast as ‘the boring old man sketch’. The character I played was vehement in his defence of corporal and capital punishment while strongly rebutting any suggestion that the thought of either gave him pleasure. ‘On the contrary,’ I intoned. ‘They produce no erec ... no REACTION at all.’

Diary: Selling my hair on eBay

Alan Bennett, 6 January 2022

27 February. The hair is getting to be a problem. As children, my brother and I had our hair cut at Mr Shaw’s, the barber on Armley Moor Top in Leeds. It was a wearisome business, after school when the shop was always full. Mr Shaw, who was bald, never condescended to talk to us children, who in any case were rapt in Everybody’s and Picture Post and even the occasional Lilliput. When we lived in Headingley it was Mr Oddy on Shire Oak Street, another bald and taciturn fellow but with classier magazines, in particular Britannia and Eve, notable for illustrations of bare-breasted ladies driving chariots, in the genteel porn that was the speciality of Fortunino Matania. My dad had his hair cut on the same parade as his butcher’s shop in Meanwood, though never to the satisfaction of my mother, who claimed he came home ‘looking like a scraped cock’. She meant a plucked fowl, but had no thought of being misunderstood. Today’s barber is my partner, Rupert Thomas, who, while professing to admire my abundant locks, manages to make me look like a blond Hitler. He was also wondering if he could save the offcuts in case they might find a market on eBay.

Diary: A Round of Applause

Alan Bennett, 7 January 2021

16 August. Every evening around eight we walk round the block – literally a three­ minute walk. What in normal circumstances is one of Rupert’s good habits is to pick up any stray scraps of paper to put them in the bin, and this evening on the corner of Reg­ent’s Park Road he retrieves a bit of paper which turns out to be a (previously used) tissue. He is appalled and we hasten home so that he can bin it and wash his hands. What we have not realised is that it’s Thursday and our progress is hindered by a fusillade of clapping and pan-­banging from the neighbours out on their bal­conies in celebration of the NHS. Rupert can clap (even with the noxious tissue), but I can’t as I need to hold onto my walk­ing stick. It also appears that, with me walking in the road, I appear to be acknowledging the applause and even gen­erating it. I try to disavow this by feebly smiling and shaking my head, but this just looks like modesty. It’s an absurd and inexplicable incident.

The Shrine

Alan Bennett, 30 July 2020

A middle-aged woman, Lorna, sits at a kitchen table. She talks to the camera. Very flat.

The policeman said​, ‘Did I want to see where it happened?’

I said, ‘What good would that do?’

He said, ‘It might help towards closure.’

I said, ‘Closure? It was only last Sunday. They haven’t even had the inquest yet.’

Had his notebook out. Kept ticking...

An Ordinary Woman

Alan Bennett, 16 July 2020

Later on I went over to see Louisa. She still smokes so we adjourned to the end of the garden, and I said how nice Michael was being. She said, ‘They are at that age. Just before they take off. Ricky’s the same. I can’t look at him sometimes, I fancy him that much.’ And she laughs, as if this is the most normal thing in the world. I said, ‘Does he know?’ ‘That I fancy him? Course. I tell him. I tell him all the time.’ ‘And doesn’t he mind?’ She said, ‘No. It was him that said it, he caught me looking at him out of the bath and he said, “You fancy me, don’t you?” I said, “Don’t flatter yourself.” ‘But he was suited, you could see.’ ‘Michael wouldn’t be,’ I said. ‘Though he tells me everything.’ ‘No, he doesn’t, love. They never do.’ Coming away, I wish I hadn’t said anything. She makes it seem so dirty. I could never tell him. Only I have to tell somebody.

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