As you may know, the BBC are celebrating Alan Bennett’s 75th birthday with a series of programmes about the famous playwright, so we thought we might add our own tribute to the man who epitomises ‘up North’.
Alan Bennett was born in Leeds in 1934. His father was a butcher but Alan never had any intentions of following in his father’s footsteps; instead, from childhood, he wanted to be a medieval historian. He went to Oxford to study just that, but thankfully for us, and the world of literature, he was of course to become a prolific writer whose works have brought him international acclaim.
But he remains as modest and grounded in his Northern roots as he’s always been, and it’s this that has arguably enabled him to reflect so piercingly accurately the ‘ordinary man’ – or woman for that matter.
Apparently, Bennett based many of his best-loved characters on his own family and the neighbours he grew up with. From his very first television play, A Day Out, to the ‘Talking Heads’ monologues to his autobiography ‘Untold Stories’, Bennett’s rapier but understated wit has ensured that even his early works are as contemporary and relevant now as they were all those years ago when Bennett’s auspicious career in writing began.
He’s been given so many awards in his lifetime, it would take a while to list them all but amongst them are no less than three Olivier Awards and six Tony Awards.
But of all Bennett’s works, I love the Talking Heads monologues best. Starring Thora Hird, Maggie Smith, Stephanie Cole, Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge and Bennett himself, this series painted cherished portraits of ordinary lives and the dreams and aspirations of everyday folk. And in less than ten years after they first appeared on television, the works were added to the A-level syllabus, thereby achieving ‘modern classic’ status.
Here are just a few of my favourite clips from Bennett’s work for TV…
And here’s an excerpt from another Bennett classic, Intensive Care…
The following is the brilliant, ‘Say Something Happened’ which was broadcast in the BBC’s 1982 series of plays by Bennett. It was later published in the collection, ‘Objects of Affection’. Sorry it’s in five parts, but it’s well worth watching each one!
So, happy birthday our Alan, and here’s wishing you many more.