24 October 2008
The author and playwright Alan Bennett is presenting his papers as a gift to the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. This remarkable and comprehensive archive comprises materials, letters, and manuscripts relating to a distinguished literary career which began with the revue Beyond the Fringe in 1960 and has spanned nearly five decades.
The archive includes original manuscripts, typescripts, handwritten notes and drafts for all Bennett’s stage and television plays, including the plays written for the National Theatre, the autobiographical collections Writing Home (1994) and Untold Stories (2005) plus the manuscripts of his novellas and short-stories, the latest being The Uncommon Reader (2007).
What will also come to the Bodleian in due course are Bennett’s annotated editions of his published writings, together with letters and other materials arising from his own marginal notes and afterthoughts. There are also diaries in an unbroken series from 1974 onwards, only a small selection of which has so far been published.
Alan Bennett writes:
‘I tend to re-write quite a bit so whatever I do tend to go into three or four versions all of which I keep, and since I don’t have a computer this does make for a fair amount of paperwork. The fact that a good deal of this is handwritten seems to delight the archivists at Bodley but it’s always dismayed me and there’s so much I’m quite glad to see the back of it. I just pity the poor research student who may have to make sense of it all.
More seriously I would like to emphasise that these accumulated writings come at no cost to the Library or indeed to the tax-payer because I see this gift as an obligation repaid. I was educated at Oxford at Exeter College and I was fortunate in my time because my education was entirely free. I say with some pride that I had a state education: school, university. None of it cost me or my parents a penny. It’s a situation which young people in education today can only dream of and this is wrong.
I believe that free education is a right and would dispute the notion that unless one pays for education it will be undervalued. I hope I never undervalued the education I had here and [though not to seem overpious] I see this gift, such as it is, as some small recompense both to the University and also, thought it is unfashionable to say this, to the state … or Nanny state as it is disparagingly called. Well, as I say I was lucky in my time and I’m grateful to be nannied.
I think its appropriate too that my stuff should be here in Oxford. My writing is nothing if not English and however universal and unboundaried scholarship may be these days I wouldn’t want to be lodged in some mid-western university. At the Bodleian I shall be rubbing shoulders with Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin. They might not be all that pleased but I am.’
Dr Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian, said: ‘Alan Bennett has shown extraordinary generosity in presenting his archive to the Bodleian. He is one of the world’s greatest living writers, and the Bodleian is honoured to become the home of the Bennett Papers and preserve them for generations of scholars to come. The archive is one of the most important acquisitions for the Library in recent times, and will be a major resource for researchers.’
Sally Mapstone, Chair of the English Faculty Board, said: 'Alan Bennett's donation of his literary archive to the Bodleian Library is marvellous news for scholars and researchers in contemporary drama. This rich and comprehensive collection of drafts, revisions, and final versions of his plays and stories provides a unique opportunity to explore the creativity and working methods of this quintessentially English writer. Alan Bennett is relatively unusual these days in writing without a computer, and the preservation of so much of his work in different stages of draft enhances the importance of this collection. The Bodleian - just round the corner from his undergraduate College, Exeter - is the perfect repository for his papers, which will be of huge interest to scholars and students in the English Faculty, the largest English department in the UK, and of course to researchers who come to Oxford from all round the world.'
The archive is to be catalogued and will be open to researchers in part by January 2010.
Alan Bennett, 74, is an influential playwright, director, actor, author and political campaigner. His works include nineteen individual television plays, four television series and three cinema films together with numerous stage works and short stories. He is also five times recipient of the Laurence Olivier Award, the British Book Awards for Lifetime Achievement, Tony Award for Best Play (US), and the BAFTA and Writers' Guild Award among others prestigious awards. Alan Bennett was educated at Leeds Modern School and at Exeter College, Oxford where he read History.