Alan Bennett

English actor, author, playwright, and screenwriter

Alan Bennett (born 9 May 1934) is an English playwright, screenwriter, memoirist, essayist and actor. He first came to notice as a writer-performer of Beyond the Fringe. His plays include Forty Years On, An Englishman Abroad, Talking Heads, A Question of Attribution, The Madness of King George and The History Boys. He also created the sketch comedy On the Margin in 1966 with John Sergeant.

Alan Bennett in 1973


  • Geoff: We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn't obey the rules.
    • Getting On, Act 1 (1972).
  • Polly: Education with socialists, it's like sex, all right as long as you don't have to pay for it.
    • Getting On, Act 1.
  • Brian (asked how he feels about being a politician): Passes the time. Fills in that awkward gap between the cradle and the grave.
    • Getting On, Act 1.
  • George: That flaming dog has messed on our steps again. It's the one species I wouldn't mind seeing disappear from the face of the earth. I wish they were like the White Rhino—six of them left in the Serengeti National Park, and all males. Do you know what dogs are? They're those beer-sodden soccer fans piling out of coaches in a lay-by, yanking their cocks out without a blush and pissing up against the wall thirty-nine in a row. I can't stand it.
  • Polly: Question is whether you hate the coach party because they're like the dogs or hate the dogs because they're like the coach party.
  • George: I hate them all.
    • Getting On, Act 1 [1].
  • Mrs Wicksteed: Of course, I've known for years our marriage has been a mockery. My body lying there night after night in the wasted moonlight. I know now how the Taj Mahal must feel.
    • Habeas Corpus (1973).
  • I lack what the English call character, by which they mean the power to refrain.
    • An Englishman Abroad (1983).
  • That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water.

On the Margin (1966)


Cited from Frank Muir's Book of Comedy Sketches

  • "Then I want to end up 'Norwich. Well it's an epigrammatic way of saying 'Knickers off ready when I come home".
  • Counsel: [You are charged with] loitering to commit a felony. Now then Mr Golightly...
  • Golightly: Call me Fingers.

Forty Years On (1969)


Quotations are cited from Plays One (London, [1991] 1996)

  • Lady Dundown: How can the Zulu expect to be treated as civilized people if they declare war in the middle of the season!
  • Lady Dundown: I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment.
    • Act 1, p. 40.
  • Headmaster: Clad in the magnificent white silk robes of an Arab prince, with in his belt the short curved, gold sword of the Ashraf descendants of the Prophet, he hoped to pass unnoticed through London. Alas, he was mistaken. "Who am I?" he would cry despairingly. "You are Lawrence of Arabia" passers-by would stop him and say, "And I claim my five pounds."
    • Act 1, p. 56.
  • Headmaster: Memories are not shackles, Franklin, they are garlands.
    • Act 1.
  • Headmaster: They were all socialists. Why is it always the intelligent people who are socialists?
  • Schoolmaster: But God, whatever else He is, and of course He is everything else, is not a fool.
    • Act 2, p. 78.
  • Franklin: Have you ever thought, Headmaster, that your standards might perhaps be a little out of date?
    Headmaster: Of course they're out of date. Standards always are out of date. That is what makes them standards.
    • Act 2, p. 80.
  • Headmaster: Mark my words, when a society has to resort to the lavatory for its humour, the writing is on the wall.
    • Act 2, p. 80.
  • Franklin: Sapper, Buchan, Dornford Yates, practitioners in that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good-class tweed through twentieth-century literature.
    • Act 2.
    • Bennett is often credited with having coined the pun "snobbery with violence", though he himself pointed out in Writing Home (1994), p. 199, that the phrase had been used by Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk in 1932 as the title of a pamphlet.

Writing Home (1994)

  • I tried to explain to her the significance of the great poet, but without much success, The Waste Land not figuring very largely in Mam's scheme of things.
    "The thing is," I said finally, "he won the Nobel Prize."
    "Well," she said, with that unerring grasp of inessentials which is the prerogative of mothers, "I’m not surprised. It was a beautiful overcoat."
    • Introduction, p. x (1994).
  • He had never read Proust, but he had somehow taken a short cut across the allotments and arrived at the same conclusions.
  • An article on playwrights in the Daily Mail, listed according to Hard Left, Soft Left, Hard Right, Soft Right and Centre. I am not listed. I should probably come under Soft Centre.
    • Diary entry for November 11, 1981, p. 117.
  • The majority of people perform well in a crisis and when the spotlight is on them; it's on the Sunday afternoons of this life, when nobody is looking, that the spirit falters.
    • Diary entry for October 13, 1984, pp. 137–138.
  • To play Trivial Pursuit with a life like mine could be said to be a form of homeopathy.
    • Diary entry for June 7, 1985, p. 143.
  • We have fish and chips, which W. and I fetch from the shop in Settle market-place. Some local boys come in and there is a bit of chat between them and the fish-fryer about whether the kestrel under the counter is for sale.…Only when I mention it to W. does he explain Kestrel is now a lager. I imagine the future is going to contain an increasing number of incidents like this, culminating with a man in a white coat saying to one kindly, "And now can you tell me the name of the Prime Minister?"
    • Diary entry for July 25, 1985, p. 144.
  • Kafka could never have written as he did had he lived in a house. His writing is that of someone whose whole life was spent in apartments, with lifts, stairwells, muffled voices behind closed doors, and sounds through walls. Put him in a nice detached villa and he’d never have written a word.
    • Diary entry for June 27, 1988, p. 177.
  • I have no doubt that in heaven the angels will regard the blessed as a necessary evil.
    • Diary entry for August 9, 1985, p. 290.
  • One of the good things about Larkin is that he still has you firmly by the hand as you cross the finishing-line, whereas reading Auden is like doing a parachute-drop: for a while the view is wonderful, but then you end up on your back in the middle of a ploughed field and in the wrong county.
    • "Instead of a Present", p. 323 (1982).
  • The Channel is a slipper-bath of irony through which we pass these serious Continentals in order not to be infected by their gloom.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 335 (1987).
  • He is interested in the feelings of the squash ball, and of the champagne bottle that launches the ship. In a football match his sympathy is not with either of the teams but with the ball, or, in a match ending nil-nil, with the hunger of the goalmouth.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 336.
  • However, living in Tel Aviv, he was spared the fate of equivalent figures in English culture, an endless round of arts programmes where those who have known the famous are publicly debriefed of their memories, knowing as their own dusk falls that they will be remembered only for remembering someone else.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 347.
    • Referring to Max Brod
  • Our father the novelist; my husband the poet. He belongs to the ages – just don't catch him at breakfast. Artists, celebrated for their humanity, they turn out to be scarcely human at all.
    • "Kafka in Las Vegas", p. 348.
  • Schweitzer in the Congo did not derive more moral credit than Larkin did for living in Hull.
    • "Alas! Deceived", p. 367 (1993).
  • Writer: I don’t know whether you've ever looked into a miner's eyes – for any length of time, that is. Because it is the loveliest blue you've ever seen. I think perhaps that's why I live in Ibiza, because the blue of the Mediterranean, you see, reminds me of the blue of the eyes of those Doncaster miners.
    • "The Pith and its Pitfalls", p. 384 (1981).
  • Writer: What, above all, I'm primarily concerned with is the substance of life, the pith of reality. If I had to sum up my work, that's it, really. I'm taking the pith out of reality.
    • "The Pith and its Pitfalls", p. 384 (1981).
  • If you find yourself born in Barnsley and then set your sights on being Virginia Woolf it is not going to be roses all the way.
    • "The Pith and its Pitfalls", p. 385 (1981).