All things Alan Bennett
I’ve had a little Alan Bennett splurge recently. I used to only associate him with his diaries, because they were often serialised on Radio 4 but I’ve never got into them, because I’m afraid I don’t like his voice and that was enough to turn me off. It turns out, and I should know this, he is actually a playwright and a diarist rather than just a modern day Pepys. So I read Keeping On Keeping On (which in fact contains plays and extensive notes as well as diary entries) and as there were so many enticing references to People, I read that. I liked it but didn’t love it, whereas I also read The Hand of God and loved that one, ditto with the complete Talking Heads. All in all, quite a little Alan Bennett bonanza.
What struck me most in Keeping On Keeping On was the number of people Bennet refers to whom I recognize; they are actors, all the great and the good seem to have acted in the famous Talking Heads monologues (or perhaps the future great and good were “launched” by these plays? I should check.) Fellow playwrights are also mentioned (like Yasmina Reza and coincidentally, I had just read Art by that author) and critics (like Kenneth Tynan and coincidentally I am reading in parallel his edited diaries.) In fact, I pretty quickly got to that stage when a topic or person you are interested is referenced all over the place, including in Love Nina, the TV adaptation of which I really enjoyed, although I have to say that the character in that series who is allegedly meant to be Alan Bennett comes across as a joyless stooge, far removed from the idea I have in my head of the real Alan Bennett …
There are many funny vignettes in Keeping On Keeping On (my favourite is the discussion between Alan Bennett and his partner on the “cross” placed by workers in their bathroom – it’s too long to explain here but it did made me chuckle); the diaries otherwise comprise roughly equal parts of descriptions of daily life in Camden Town, jaunts to his Yorkshire home, trips to antique shops and old churches, notes on the art of writing and playwriting and the attending tours, functions and events, comments on British society today together with the odd political rant. A nice mix, as far as I’m concerned, with the exception of the details of finds in antique shops. Antiques bore me, but then I like old churches so I can’t condemn outright what someone called his tweeness (and yes, I guess the term is apt).
Diaries are a bit like epistolary novels, boxes of chocolates with different treats available, I like them and I liked this diary-cum-plays-and-notes in particular.