Listening to books: Alan Bennett at the BBC

I can thoroughly recommend Alan Bennett at the BBC which is currently available from or the iTunes store. I’ve just finished listening to the inimitable Mr Bennett reading what is a miscellany of his work from the past 30 or so years, and all via the BBC. By the way I very much also enjoyed his reading of The Uncommon Reader which is all about HM the Queen’s discovery of the joys of books and reading. It’s a wonderfully witty little piece of fiction, and the reading is made all the more enjoyable by Bennett’s own droll performance style. He’s got a great line in character voices.

With Alan Bennett at the BBC, we get pieces which range from anecdotes during interviews, pieces from his radio plays and television productions, diary entries and commentary on family, friends, and people he’s worked with; his portrait of Peter Cook, a colleague from Beyond the Fringe is especially moving.

I love Bennett’s work as actor and writer. He is a most English playwright whose brilliance lies in an ability to capture the poignancy and detail of the ordinary lives of his characters. His wonderful series called Talking Heads must be one of the finest collection of extended monologues ever written for actors. They are funny, achingly sad, wise … the whole box and dice that make up a good piece of actorly text. Talking Heads was written for the stage and filmed for television, and if you don’t know it, then treat yourself and do something about getting access now. You’ll see Bennett at work in Talking Heads in a piece called A Chip in the Sugar. You’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite, but I still vividly recall Maggie Smith as the alcoholic vicar’s wife who found companionship and love with an Indian grocer in the extraordinary Bed Among the Lentils. Bennett  like Chekhov, writes plays which bob and weave their way between comedy and tragedy, wrong-footing their audiences at every turn, and the adroit Maggie Smith was perfectly cast in the role.

Anyhow … Bennett can time a punch line to perfection. He tells a slew of jokes in Alan Bennett at the BBC … many of which are self-deprecating. However there’s one which is particularly pertinent which concerns the late Harold Pinter. We’ve all be appropriately reverential toward the great man and his memory of late, so it was a bit of a relief then to hear Bennett tell a Pinter joke.  On the occasion of Pinter’s 50th birthday, Bennett recalled being asked by someone from the BBC for an appropriate way to mark the occasion. He says he couldn’t think of anything at the time. Only after he’d put the phone down did he think of suggesting, ‘… perhaps 2 minutes’ silence?’ Delightful.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *