Alan Bennett (born 9 May 1934) is an English playwright, screenwriter, actor, and author. He was born in Leeds and attended Oxford University, where he studied history and performed with the Oxford Revue. He stayed to teach and research medieval history at the university for several years. His collaboration as writer and performer with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook in the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe at the 1960 Edinburgh Festival brought him instant fame. He gave up academia, and turned to writing full-time, his first stage play Forty Years On being produced in 1968.
His work includes The Madness of George III and its film adaptation, the series of monologues Talking Heads, play and subsequent film of The History Boys, and popular audio books, including his readings of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Winnie-the-Pooh.
Bennett in 1973,
photographed by Allan Warren
|Born||9 May 1934|
|Residence||Camden Town, London|
|Alma mater||Exeter College, Oxford|
|Occupation||Playwright, screenwriter, actor, author|
Bennett was born in Armley in Leeds. The youngest son of a co-op butcher, Walter, and his wife Lilian Mary (née Peel), Bennett attended Christ Church, Upper Armley, Church of England School (in the same class as Barbara Taylor Bradford), and then Leeds Modern School (now Lawnswood School).
He learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists during his national service before applying 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 remained at the university for several years, where he served as a junior lecturer of Medieval History at Magdalen College, before deciding he was not suited to be an academic in 1960.
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. His television comedy sketch series On the Margin (1966) was unfortunately erased; the BBC re-used expensive videotape rather than keep it in the archives. However, in 2014 it was announced that copies of the entire series had been found.
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, with screenplays, short stories, novellas, a large body of non-fictional prose, and broadcasting and many appearances as an actor.
Bennett's distinctive, expressive voice and the sharp humour and humanity of his writing have made his readings of his work very popular, especially the autobiographical writings.
Many of Bennett's characters are unfortunate and downtrodden. Life has brought them to an impasse or else passed them by. 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.
Despite a long history with both the National Theatre and the BBC, Bennett never writes on commission, declaring "I don't work on commission, I just do it on spec. If people don't want it then it's too bad."
Bennett is both unsparing and compassionate in laying bare his characters' frailties. This can be seen in his television plays for LWT from the early 1970s through to his work for the BBC in the early 1980s. His many works for television include his first play for the medium, A Day Out in 1972, A Little Outing in 1977, Intensive Care in 1982, An Englishman Abroad in 1983, and A Question of Attribution in 1991. But perhaps his most famous screen work is 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 depicting several stages in the character's decline from an initial state of denial or ignorance of their predicament, through a slow realisation of the hopelessness of their situation, progressing to a bleak or ambiguous conclusion. A second set of six Talking Heads followed a decade later, which was darker and more disturbing.
In his 2005 prose collection Untold Stories, Bennett has written candidly and movingly of the mental illness that his mother and other family members suffered. 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 Harbour"), the range and daring of his work is often undervalued. His television play The Old Crowd includes shots of the director and technical crew.
He wrote The Lady in the Van based on his experiences with an eccentric woman called Miss Shepherd, who lived on Bennett's driveway in a series of dilapidated vans for more than fifteen years. It was first published in 1989 as an essay in the London Review of Books. In 1990 he published it in book form. In 1999 he adapted it into a stage play, which starred Maggie Smith and was directed by Nicholas Hytner. The stage play includes two characters named Alan Bennett. On 21 February 2009 it was broadcast as a radio play on BBC Radio 4, with Maggie Smith reprising her role and Alan Bennett playing himself. He adapted the story again for a 2015 film, with Maggie Smith reprising her role again, and Nicholas Hytner directing again. In the film Alex Jennings plays the two versions of Bennett, although Alan Bennett appears in a cameo at the very end of the film.
Bennett adapted his 1991 play The Madness of George III for the cinema. Entitled The Madness of King George (1994), the film received four Academy Award 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 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 also received the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre. The History Boys won 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 in October 2006.
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. A new production of Enjoy attracted very favourable notices during its 2008 UK tour and moved to the West End of London in January 2009. The West End show took over £1m in advance ticket sales and even extended the run to cope with demand. The production starred Alison Steadman, David Troughton, Richard Glaves, Carol Macready and Josie Walker.
Bennett's play People opened at the National Theatre in October 2012. In December that year, Cocktail Sticks, an autobiographical play by Bennett, premièred at the National Theatre as part of a double bill with the monologue Hymn. The production was directed by Bennett's long-term collaborator Nicholas Hytner. It was well-received, and transferred to the Duchess Theatre in the West End of London, being subsequently adapted for radio broadcast by BBC Radio 4.
Bennett lives in Camden Town in London, with his partner Rupert Thomas, the editor of World of Interiors magazine. Bennett also had a long-term relationship with his former housekeeper, Anne Davies, until her death in 2009.
Bennett is a lapsed Anglican; brought up in the Church, he became very religious as a teenager, but has "slowly left it [the Church] over the years", though he still holds a faith, and is often supportive of the restoration of churches throughout Britain.
In September 2005, Bennett revealed that, in 1997, he had undergone treatment for colorectal cancer, and described the illness as a "bore". His chances of survival were given as being "much less" than 50% and surgeons had told him they removed a "rock-bun" sized tumour. He began Untold Stories (published 2005) thinking it would be published posthumously, but 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 bisexuality. Previously Bennett had referred to questions about his sexuality as like asking a man who has just crawled across the Sahara desert to choose between Perrier or Malvern mineral water.
In October 2008, Bennett announced that he was donating his entire archive of working papers, unpublished manuscripts, diaries and books to the Bodleian Library, stating that it was a gesture of thanks repaying a debt he felt he owed to the British welfare state that had given him educational opportunities which his humble family background would otherwise never have afforded.
In September 2015, Bennett endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election. He said: "I think Jeremy Corbyn has given things a good kick in the pants and the fact that he has done so well shows that people are concerned about these issues. The Government would have you think that nobody is concerned about these things, but they are." In October after Corbyn's election victory he said: "I approve of him. If only because it brings Labour back to what they ought to be thinking about."
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 honorary doctorate from Kingston University in 1996. In 1998 he refused an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, in protest at its acceptance of funding for a chair from press baron Rupert Murdoch. He also declined a CBE in 1988 and a knighthood in 1996. He has stated that, although he is not a republican, he would never wish to be knighted, saying it would be a bit like having to wear a suit for the rest of his life. Bennett earned Honorary Membership of The Coterie in the 2007 membership list.
In December 2011 Bennett returned to Lawnswood School, nearly 60 years after he left, to unveil the renamed Alan Bennett Library. He said he "loosely" based The History Boys on his experiences at the school and his admission to Oxford. Lawnswood School dedicated its library to the writer after he emerged as a vocal campaigner against public library cuts. Plans to shut local libraries were "wrong and very short-sighted", Bennett said, adding: "We're impoverishing young people."
A Private Function is a 1984 British comedy film starring Michael Palin and Maggie Smith. The film was predominantly filmed in Ilkley, Ben Rhydding, and Barnoldswick, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.A Question of Attribution
A Question of Attribution is a 1988 one-act stage play, written by Alan Bennett. It was premièred at the National Theatre, London, in December 1988, along with the stage version of An Englishman Abroad. The two plays are collectively called Single Spies.The one-act play formed the basis of a 1991 television film of the same name broadcast as part of the BBC's Screen One series. The film was directed by John Schlesinger and stars James Fox as Anthony Blunt, David Calder as Chubb, an MI5 officer, and Prunella Scales as 'H.M.Q.' (Queen Elizabeth II). The film was produced by long-time Bennett collaborator Innes Lloyd, and is dedicated to his memory.
The New York Times called the film a "razor-sharp psychological melodrama" and it won the 1992 BAFTA TV award for Best Single Drama. Prunella Scales was nominated for Best Actress.Afternoon Off
Afternoon Off is a 1979 television play by Alan Bennett. Broadcast under the umbrella title Six Plays by Alan Bennett, it was produced for London Weekend Television and directed by Stephen Frears. The screenplay was published by Faber and Faber in 1984.Alan Bennett (footballer, born 1981)
Alan John Bennett (born 4 October 1981) is an Irish professional footballer who plays for Cork City as a defender. He has represented the Republic of Ireland national team.Alan Krueger
Alan Bennett Krueger (September 17, 1960 – March 16, 2019) was an American economist who was the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, nominated by President Barack Obama, from May 2009 to October 2010, when he returned to Princeton. He was nominated in 2011 by Obama as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and served in that office from November 2011 to August 2013. He was among the 50 highest ranked economists in the world according to Research Papers in Economics.An Englishman Abroad
An Englishman Abroad is a 1983 BBC television drama film, based on the true story of a chance meeting of actress Coral Browne, with Guy Burgess (Alan Bates), a member of the Cambridge spy ring who spied for the Soviet Union while an officer at MI6. The production was written by Alan Bennett and directed by John Schlesinger; Browne stars as herself.Forty Years On (play)
Forty Years On is a 1968 play by Alan Bennett. It was his first West End play.Kafka's Dick
Kafka's Dick is a 1986 play by Alan Bennett. It is a play about the nature of fame, and how reputation is gained.Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a 1978 television play by Alan Bennett, produced by London Weekend Television and directed by Stephen Frears. The title of the play is a parody of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which in turn plays on the title of the Disney song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?".Prick Up Your Ears
Prick Up Your Ears is a 1987 British film, directed by Stephen Frears, about the playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell. The screenplay was written by Alan Bennett, based on the biography by John Lahr. The film stars Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell, Wallace Shawn as Lahr, and Vanessa Redgrave as Peggy Ramsay.Single Spies
Single Spies is a 1988 stage play written by English playwright Alan Bennett. It consists of two acts, An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution.Talking Heads (play)
Talking Heads is a stage adaptation of the BBC series of the same title created by Alan Bennett. It consists of six monologues presented in alternating programs of three each.Talking Heads (series)
Talking Heads is a series of dramatic monologues written for BBC television by British playwright Alan Bennett. The two series were first broadcast in 1988 and 1998, and have since been broadcast on BBC Radio and included on the A-level and GCSE English Literature syllabus.
A West End theatre production, also entitled Talking Heads, opened at the Comedy Theatre in January 1992 for a 10-week season, starring Patricia Routledge and Alan Bennett, who also directed, plus piano interludes by Jeremy Sams.A few episodes also aired on PBS in the United States as part of its Masterpiece Theatre programme. In 2002, seven of the pieces were performed at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles for a highly praised engagement. In 2003, the Los Angeles production was staged Off-Broadway, at The Minetta Lane Theater with a few changes in casting and creative personnel, and replacement of one of its seven monologues. Exceeding the critical and commercial success of its LA run, this version was recognized with Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award nominations, and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress (Lynn Redgrave), The Obie Award for Outstanding Performance, (Kathleen Chalfant, Daniel Davis, Christine Ebersole, Valerie Mahaffey, Lynn Redgrave, Brenda Wehle), and The Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play (Alan Bennett). The entire series is now available on DVD and also in published form.The History Boys
The History Boys is a play by British playwright Alan Bennett. The play premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London on 18 May 2004. Its Broadway debut was on 23 April 2006 at the Broadhurst Theatre where 185 performances were staged before it closed on 1 October 2006.The play won multiple awards, including the 2005 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and the 2006 Tony Award for Best Play.The History Boys (film)
The History Boys is a 2006 British comedy-drama film adapted by Alan Bennett from his play of the same name, which won the 2005 Olivier Award for Best New Play and the 2006 Tony Award for Best Play. It was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who directed the original production at the Royal National Theatre in London, and features the original cast of the play.
The school scenes were filmed in Watford in two schools, Watford Grammar School for Boys and Watford Grammar School for Girls. The film uses the uniform of Watford Boys. Locations in Elland and Halifax, West Yorkshire are used to create the broader landscape of Sheffield in which the story is set.The Lady in the Van
The Lady in the Van is a 2015 British comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner, and starring Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings, based on the memoir of the same name created by Alan Bennett. It was written by Alan Bennett, and it tells the (mostly) true story of his interactions with Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lived in a dilapidated van on his driveway in London for 15 years. He had previously published the story as a 1989 essay, 1990 book, 1999 stage play, and 2009 radio play on BBC Radio 4. Smith had previously portrayed Shepherd twice: in the 1999 stage play, which earned her a Best Actress nomination at the 2000 Olivier Awards and in the 2009 radio adaptation.Hytner directed the 1999 stage play at the Queen's Theatre in London. The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and received largely positive reviews from critics.The Madness of George III
The Madness of George III is a 1991 play by Alan Bennett. It is a fictionalised biographical study of the latter half of the reign of George III of the United Kingdom, his battle with mental illness, and the inability of his court to handle his condition. It was adapted for film in 1994 as The Madness of King George.The Madness of King George
The Madness of King George is a 1994 British biographical historical comedy-drama film directed by Nicholas Hytner and adapted by Alan Bennett from his own play, The Madness of George III. It tells the true story of George III of Great Britain's deteriorating mental health, and his equally declining relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, particularly focusing on the period around the Regency Crisis of 1788–89. Modern medicine has suggested that the King's symptoms were the result of acute intermittent porphyria, although this theory has more recently been vigorously challenged, most notably by a research project based at St George's, University of London, which concluded that George III did actually suffer from mental illness after all.The Madness of King George won the BAFTA Awards in 1995 for Outstanding British Film and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Nigel Hawthorne; it also won the Best Art Direction and was nominated for additional Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Mirren and Best Adapted Screenplay. Helen Mirren also won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress and Hytner was nominated for the Palme d'Or.
In 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Madness of King George the 42nd greatest British film of all time.The Uncommon Reader
The Uncommon Reader is a novella by Alan Bennett. After appearing first in the London Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 5 (8 March 2007), it was published later the same year in book form by Faber & Faber and Profile Books.
An audiobook version read by the author was released on CD in 2007.