The third installment of diaries from the celebrated dramatist and author.
For a butcher’s son from Leeds, Bennett (Smut: Two Unseemly Stories, 2011, etc.) has done exceedingly well for himself. From his early days as a member of Beyond the Fringe—he modestly calls himself “a less talented performer” than Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, or Jonathan Miller—he has since become the author of such celebrated plays as The Madness of George III and The History Boys. To many readers, he may be just as famous for his diaries, which have appeared annually in the London Review of Books for 30 years. Like its predecessors, Writing Home (1995) and Untold Stories (2006), this book contains a decade of his diary entries. Fans will recognize Bennett in these pages: riding his bike, buying antiques, visiting medieval churches, and, as always, enjoying his lovingly described sandwiches. Part of the charm of these entries is the mix of the mundane and the glamorous. In a senior moment, he can’t find a favorite sweater, and his partner has to tell him he’s wearing it. Next, he’s meeting the likes of Judi Dench, Tom Stoppard, Elizabeth Taylor (who sat on his knee at a party, although he doesn’t remember why), and John F. Kennedy. The second half of the book includes introductions to his later plays, speeches, and two unproduced scripts, but the highlights are the diaries. Bennett makes just about everything sound poetic, as when he writes that a routine colonoscopy reveals “a little fairy ring of polyps, innocent enough but ruthlessly lassoed and garrotted by the radiographer.” And who wouldn’t smile upon reading that, at the post office, an elderly customer recognized Bennett and commanded, “Say something whimsical”?
“I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat,’ ” Bennett writes of his reputation for niceness. “And did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.” That may be debatable, but the good-naturedness in these engaging pages is proof of his current standing.