Alan Bennett (born 9 May 1934) is an English author, actor, humorist and playwright.
Bennett was born in Armley in Leeds, West Yorkshire. The son of a co-op butcher, Bennett attended Leeds Modern School (now Lawnswood School), learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists during his National Service, and gained a place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.However, having spent time in Cambridge during national service, and partly wishing to follow the object of his unrequited love Read more on Last.fm …read full bio
Alan Bennett (born 9 May 1934) is an English author, actor, humorist and playwright.
Bennett was born in Armley in Leeds, West Yorkshire. The son of a co-op butcher, Bennett attended Leeds Modern School (now Lawnswood School), learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists during his National Service, and gained a place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.However, having spent time in Cambridge during national service, and partly wishing to follow the object of his unrequited love, he decided to apply for a scholarship at Oxford University. He was accepted by Exeter College, Oxford and went on to receive a first-class degree in history. While at Oxford he performed comedy with a number of future successful actors in the Oxford Revue. He was to remain at the university for several years, where he researched and taught Medieval History, before deciding he was not cut out to be an academic.
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. A highly regarded television comedy sketch series On the Margin (1966) was, unfortunately, erased: the BBC would habitually re-use the then-expensive videotape rather than keep it in the archives.
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, was produced in 1968. Many television, stage and radio plays followed, along with screenplays, short stories, novellas, a large body of non-fictional prose and broadcasting, and many appearances as an actor.
Bennett's lugubrious yet expressive voice (which still bears a slight Leeds accent) and the sharp humour and evident humanity of his writing have made his readings of his own work (especially his autobiographical writing) very popular. His readings of the Winnie the Pooh stories are also widely enjoyed.
Many of Bennett's characters are unfortunate and downtrodden, or meek and overlooked. Life has brought them to an impasse, or else passed them by altogether. 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.
Bennett is both unsparing and compassionate in laying bare his characters' frailties. This can be seen in his television plays for LWT in the late 1970s and the BBC in the early 1980s, and in 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 of which depicted several stages in the character's decline from an initial state of denial or ignorance of their predicament, through a slow realization of the hopelessness of their situation, and progressing to a bleak or ambiguous conclusion. A second set of six Talking Heads pieces followed a decade later.
In his 2005 prose collection Untold Stories Bennett has written candidly and movingly of the mental illness that afflicted his mother and other family members. 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 Harbor"), the range and daring of his work is often undervalued – his television play The Old Crowd, for example, includes shots of the director and technical crew, while his stage play The Lady in the Van includes two characters named Alan Bennett.
The Lady in the Van was based on his experiences with a tramp called Miss Shepherd who lived on Bennett's driveway in several dilapidated vans for over fifteen years. A radio play of the same title was broadcast on 21 February 2009 on BBC Radio 4, with actor Maggie Smith reprising her role of Miss Shepherd, and Alan Bennett playing himself. The work has also been published in book form.
In 1994 Bennett adapted his popular and much-praised 1991 play The Madness of George III for the cinema as The Madness of King George. The film received four Academy Award nominations, including 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 February 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 himself received the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre.
The History Boys also went on to win 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 on 13 October 2006. Bennett discussed the play and its themes in an interview on STV.
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 a hon PhD from Kingston in 1996. However in 1998 Bennett refused an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, in protest at its accepting funding for a named chair in honour of press baron Rupert Murdoch. He also declined a CBE in 1988 and a knighthood in 1996.
In September 2005, Bennett revealed that, in 1997, he had undergone treatment for cancer, and described the illness as a "bore". His chances of survival were given as being "much less" than 50%. He began Untold Stories (published 2005) thinking it would be published posthumously. In the event 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 homosexuality (Bennett has had relationships with women as well, although this is only touched upon in Untold Stories). Previously Bennett had referred to questions about his sexuality as being like asking a man dying of thirst to choose between Perrier or Malvern mineral water.
Bennett earned Honorary Membership of The Coterie in the 2007 membership list.
Bennett has lived in Camden Town in London for thirty one years, and shares his home with Rupert Thomas, his partner for the last fourteen years.
In October 2008 Bennett announced that he was donating his entire archive of working papers, unpublished manuscripts, diaries and books to the Bodleian Library free of charge, stating that it was a gesture of thanks repaying a debt he felt he owed to the UK's social welfare system that had given him educational opportunities which his humble family background would otherwise never have afforded.
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. But a new production of Enjoy has had critics raving about it during its 2008 UK tour and moved to the West End of London in January 2009. The West End show had taken over £1m in advance ticket sales and even extended the run to cope with demand. Starring Alison Steadman, David Troughton & Julian Pindar.
At the National Theatre in late 2009 Nicholas Hytner is scheduled to direct Bennett's new play, The Habit of Art, about the relationship between the poet W. H. Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten. Read more on Last.fm
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