Alan Bennett: Anarchists of the Spirit

  • Duncan Wu


In a speech deleted from the final version of Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III (1991), the King makes an important observation which, Bennett says, is ‘the nearest I can get to extracting a message from the play’:

The real lesson, if I may say so, is that what makes an illness perilous is celebrity. Or, as in my case, royalty. In the ordinary course of things doctors want their patients to recover; their reputations depend on it. But if the patient is rich or royal, powerful or famous, other considerations enter in. There are many parties interested apart from the interested party. So more doctors are called in and none but the best will do. But the best aren’t always very good and they argue, they disagree. They have to because they are after all the best and the world is watching. And who is in the middle? The patient. It happened to me. It happened to Napoleon. It happened to Anthony Eden. It happened to the Shah. The doctors even killed off George V to make the first edition of The Times. I tell you, dear people, if you’re poorly it’s safer to be poor and ordinary.1


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Alan Bennett, The Madness of George III (London: Faber, 1992), p. xx.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Madness of George III, pp. xviii–xix.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The Madness of George III, p. 87.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Alan Bennett, Single Spies (London: Faber, 1989), p. 48.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Single Spies, p. viii.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Single Spies, p. 60.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    I am grateful to Mr D. Vaisey, Librarian of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for this information.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Single Spies, pp. 58-9.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Single Spies, p. 37.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Single Spies, pp. 17-18.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Interview with S. Simons, transmitted 18 November 1982, BBC Radio Four.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Single Spies, p. ix.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Alan Bennett, Prick Up Your Ears: The Screenplay (London: Faber, 1987), p. ix.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Alan Bennett, Talking Heads (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1988), p. 39.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Objects of Affection, p. 209.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Objects of Affection, pp. 210-11.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Alan Bennett, The Writer in Disguise (London: Faber, 1985), p. 59.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    The Writer in Disguise, pp. 71-2.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    This shamelessly declarative mood is typical of moral revolutionaries in Bennett’s work; Mrs Sugden, Orton and Halliwell’s landlady in Prick Up Your Ears, is a case in point. ‘Do you notice I’m limping?’ she remarks innocently to them one afternoon,’ spilt a hot drink over my dress. My vagina came up like a football’ (Prick Up Your Ears, pp. 19-20).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Talking Heads, p. 10.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    The Writer In Disguise, p. 37.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    The Writer In Disguise, p. 41.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Alan Bennett, Office Suite (London: Faber, 1981), p. 8.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    The Writer in Disguise, p. 43.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Talking Heads, p. 13.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Objects of Affection, p. 100.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Talking Heads, p. 53.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Talking Heads, p. 49.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    The phrase is Bennett’s; Talking Heads, p. 7.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Alan Bennett, Two Kafka Plays (London: Faber, 1987), p. 104.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 115.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 123.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 116.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 126.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Two Kafka Plays, pp. 126-7.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 125.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 131.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 13.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Bennett discusses his feelings about Orton in the introduction to Prick Up Your Ears: The Screenplay.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Joe Orton, Orton: The Complete Plays (London: Methuen, 1976), p. 26.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 54.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 60.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    ‘Reflections on the irrelevance of a Northern upbringing and of a number of other things to the business of being a writer’, broadcast 3 May 1976, BBC Radio.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 12.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 11.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Two Kafka Plays, pp. 67-8.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 55.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Two Kafka Plays, p. 60.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    W.H. Auden, The English Auden ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber, 1977), p. 150.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Duncan Wu 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Duncan Wu
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of English LiteratureUniversity of GlasgowUK

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