Authors: Alan Bennett

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Beyond the Fringe, pr. 1960 (with Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore)

Fortune, pr. 1961 (coauthor)

Golden, pr. 1962 (coauthor)

Forty Years On, pr. 1968

Sing a Rude Song, pr. 1969 (with Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin)

Getting On, pr. 1971

Habeas Corpus, pr. 1973

The Old Country, pr. 1977

Enjoy, pr., pb. 1980

Office Suite, pb. 1981 (adaptations of teleplays A Visit from Miss Prothero, Doris and Doreen, and Green Forms)

Kafka’s Dick, pr. 1986

Single Spies, pr. 1988 (includes the one-act plays A Question of Attribution and An Englishman Abroad)

The Wind in the Willows, pr. 1990 (adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s novel)

The Madness of George III, pr.1991

Talking Heads, pr., pb. 1992

Long Fiction:

The Clothes They Stood Up In, 1998

Short Fiction:

The Laying On of Hands: Stories, 2002

Screenplays:

A Private Function, pr. 1984 (pb. 1985)

Prick Up Your Ears, 1987 (adaptation of John Lahr’s book)

The Madness of King George, 1994 (adaptation of his play The Madness of George III)

Parson’s Pleasure, 1995

Teleplays:

On the Margin, 1966

A Day Out, 1972

Sunset Across the Bay, 1975

A Little Outing, 1978

A Visit from Miss Prothero, 1978

Me! I’m Afraid of Virginia Woolf, 1978

Doris and Doreen, 1978

Green Forms, 1978

The Old Crowd, 1979

One Fine Day, 1979

Afternoon Off, 1979

All Day on the Sands, 1979

Objects of Affection, 1982 (includes Our Winnie, A Woman of No Importance, Rolling Home, Marks, and Say Something Happened)

Intensive Care, 1982

An Englishman Abroad, 1982

Objects of Affection, and Other Plays, 1982 (includes Intensive Care, A Day Out, and An Englishman Abroad)

The Writer in Disguise, 1985 (includes Me! I’m Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Old Crowd, One Fine Day, Afternoon Off, and All Day on the Sands)

The Insurance Man, 1986

Talking Heads, 1987 (series)

Dinner at Noon, 1988

Poetry in Motion, 1990

102 Boulevard Haussmann, 1991

A Question of Attribution, 1991

Poetry in Motion 2, 1992

Portrait or Bust, 1993

The Abbey, 1995

Radio Play:

Uncle Clarence, 1986

Nonfiction:

Writing Home, 1994

The Lady in the Van, 1989 (serial), 1999 (book)

Biography

Alan Bennett, one of England’s most popular and critically acclaimed playwrights, was born in Leeds, England, to Walter Bennett, a butcher, and Lilian Mary (Peel) Bennett. He became interested in the arts as a child, attending concerts by the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. His military service included a brief stint in the infantry followed by assignment to the Joint Services Language Course to learn Russian, first at Coulsdon, and then at Cambridge University. After serving in the army, Bennett read history at Exeter College, Oxford, taking his B.A. degree in 1957. He continued at Oxford, engaging in graduate studies in history and serving as a temporary junior lecturer in history (1960-1962) but left without completing his doctoral dissertation.{$I[A]Bennett, Alan}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Bennett, Alan}{$I[tim]1934;Bennett, Alan}

Bennett’s stage career began in 1960 when, having performed comedy routines at Oxford, he joined with three other university men to present a revue of comic and satiric skits, songs, and monologues at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre in Scotland. Invited to participate in the Edinburgh Festival that year, the four performed their revue, titled Beyond the Fringe. The revue moved to London’s Fortune Theatre in 1961 and to New York’s John Golden Theater the following year. Bennett’s partners went on to successful careers: Peter Cook as a nightclub entertainer, Jonathan Miller as a physician, and Dudley Moore as a pianist and actor. Bennett proved successful in a variety of roles in the theater as well as films and television, including actor, director, and, most important, playwright.

After coauthoring Fortune and Golden in the early 1960’s, Bennett saw his first solo play, Forty Years On, produced in 1968. A satiric yet also affectionate look at the passing of an age, Forty Years On includes a play within a play as a comic revue commemorates the retirement of a veteran headmaster at a boys’ boarding school. The play received a London Evening Standard drama award in 1968, as had Beyond the Fringe in 1961.

The 1970’s saw Bennett establishing himself as a major figure in both stage drama and television in England. Getting On earned Bennett another Evening Standard award (1971), and The Old Country was named best new play for 1977 by Plays & Players. In addition, ten of his teleplays appeared on either the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-TV) or London Weekend Television (LWT).

During the 1980’s Bennett added screenwriting to his accomplishments, with A Private Function and Prick Up Your Ears. The former is an examination of British social classes; the latter is a biography of playwright Joe Orton and has been noted by critics for its skillful use of irony, an ingredient in much of Bennett’s work. On the stage, Kafka’s Dick was named best new play of 1986 by Plays & Players. The play features an insurance salesman obsessed with author Franz Kafka. The Insurance Man, produced the following year, also is concerned with Kafka, an author whose seemingly contradictory desires for obscurity and fame appeared to resonate with Bennett’s own motivations.

Bennett’s many teleplays during the 1980’s included An Englishman Abroad, an account of English spy Guy Burgess seven years after he defected to Russia, which earned the British Academy of Film and Television Arts writers award (1983) and the Royal Television Society Award (1984), and Talking Heads, a series of six monologues by lower-middle-class individuals from northern England expressing the alienation and loneliness of their lives, which won the Hawthornden Prize (1989).

Despite having left his doctoral studies unfinished, Bennett was named an honorary fellow of Exeter College in 1987 and within a few years expanded his fame by drawing on his knowledge of history, the discipline in which he had once aspired to an academic career. In the 1990’s Bennett became famous with American audiences, primarily because of the popular and critical success of the film The Madness of King George, based on his play The Madness of George III. The film received four Academy Award nominations, including one for Bennett’s screenplay. The author appeared in a minor role in the film, continuing an acting career that has seen him perform in many of his own works.

In addition to his dramatic writing, Bennett published Writing Home, a collection of essays, prefaces, character sketches, and diary entries, in 1994. This somewhat fragmented memoir became a best-seller in England. He also turned increasingly to fiction, publishing his first novel, The Clothes They Stood Up In, and a collection of stories, The Laying On of Hands.

By the end of the twentieth century, Alan Bennett was widely acknowledged as one of the most important British playwrights, with some critics calling him the foremost British author writing for the stage. He has been especially praised for his rich dialogue, complex use of irony (usually aligned with sympathy for his subjects), verbal wit, facility at finding the precisely correct word, and humor.

BibliographyGames, Alexander. Backing into the Limelight. London: Headline, 2001. Games focuses on Bennett the man, generally sympathetically, despite Bennett’s opposition to this biographical study.O’Mealy, Joseph H. Alan Bennett: A Critical Introduction. New York: Garland, 2001. The book focuses on Bennett as a social critic while examining works from throughout his career.Turner, Daphne E. Alan Bennett: In a Manner of Speaking. London: Faber & Faber, 1997. Turner gives special consideration to Bennett’s unpublished television plays.Wilmut, Roger. From Fringe to Flying Circus: Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy, 1960-1980. London: Eyre Methuen, 1980. Wilmut’s discussion places Bennett within the context of his times and in relation to other playwrights.Wolfe, Peter. Understanding Alan Bennett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. A thorough introduction to the life and writings of Bennett, on a level suitable for students and nonacademic readers.
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