Alan Bennett (born 9 May 1934) is an English author, actor, humorist and playwright.
Bennett was born in
Armley in Leeds, 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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. But a new production of Enjoy
has had critics raving about it during its 2008 UK tour and moved to the
London West End in January 2009. The West End show had taken over £1m in
advance ticket sales and even extended the run to cope with demand.
At the National Theatre in late 2009 Nicholas Hytner is scheduled to direct Bennett's new play, as yet untitled, about the relationship between the poet W.H.Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten.