Alan Bennett - Forty Years On. Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett (I)

  • 88 years-old
  • English
  • Actor and writer

Press clippings

I saw Miller in Beyond the Fringe - I'm still dazzled

The Guardian's theatre critic was at the sketch group's first show in 1960. It was the beginning of a friendship ... and a satire boom that changed the world.

Michael Billington, The Guardian, 28th November 2019

Maggie Smith is a marvel as Miss Shepherd, the eccentric elderly woman who parked her campervan in Alan Bennett's drive for a few weeks, and stayed for 15 years. Alex Jennings is a joy as Bennett, but this is Smith's film: her comically cantankerous exterior masking an inner sadness. There's fun, too, in the neighbours' perplexed reactions to her mucky presence. This small but big-hearted comic drama is a great alternative to the talking animations and blockbusters that fill the festive TV schedule.

Paul Howlett, The Guardian, 24th December 2016

Every Home Should Have One: DVD review

The humour is adolescent throughout. A movie that ought to have given the increasingly tired-looking Carry On series a run for its money is a curious period piece that captures the ad game well it has it has its brighter moments like the take-offs of Ken Russell, Benny Hill, a Swedish nudist picture and a hell-for-leather Buster Keaton-like fight sequence in the BBC props room. It was ad guru David Ogilvy who said that advertising was 'the best fun you can have with your clothes on'. Every Home Should Have One proves him wrong.

Ken Wilson, TV Bomb, 30th June 2016

Alan Bennett's hugely popular play about Sheffield schoolboys aiming for Oxbridge gets a respectful big-screen treatment from Hytner, using the original cast and letting the wise and witty words do the work. The lovely Richard Griffiths's idealistic, repressed gay history teacher is the biggest act among many astute performances.

Paul Howlett, The Guardian, 27th April 2016

Radio Times review

Stephen Fry has been the face of the Bafta Film Awards for many years now and the British Academy is behind this glowing tribute to the writer, raconteur, actor and wit. There will be contributions from Fry's friends and colleagues Michael Sheen, Hugh Laurie, Alan Davies and John Lloyd. But in the main, Fry himself waxes lyrical on his love of meeting film stars at the awards, his early passion for drama and comedy and the bathroom encounter with Alan Bennett that prompted him to play Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film.

This may be a little luvvieish for some tastes, but the goo will have a dose of savoury in the form of his reflections on his various private struggles over the years, including his battle with depression.

Ben Dowell, Radio Times, 23rd December 2015

Radio Times review

Maggie Smith doesn't need to do chat shows, so she usually doesn't. The latest coup for Graham Norton is that he's persuaded Smith to grace a TV sofa for the first time in 42 years, to discuss her new film, Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van - and to discuss the end of Downton Abbey, no doubt.

Alongside the Dame are her co-star Alex Jennings; Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, the two leads in new chef drama Burnt; and the ever-regal Cindy Crawford, who's 50 next year and has a coffee-table photo-memoir out. Justin Bieber more or less provides music.

Jack Seale, Radio Times, 30th October 2015

Radio Times review

When an impressionist has such a distinct face, sketches can fall flat on television, no matter how uncanny the voice. The same could be said of Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson, so a return to radio should bode well.

I have to say, however, it's a mixed bag. The John Craven skit was by far the funniest, where he's challenged to sex up Countryfile à la cult US show Breaking Bad. "Have you ever cooked crystal meth?" asks a terribly posh female TV exec. Ironically, the impersonation of Craven is probably the least accomplished in the programme.

Not so the ones of Alan Bennett, Jools Holland and William Hague, whose vocal quirks are caught to a T, though the scripts could have been tighter. In all, the show leaves a satisfactory, if not great, impression.

Chris Gardner, Radio Times, 28th November 2013

Late, great-girthed actor Richard Griffiths, aka Withnail & I's Uncle Monty, heads up the original stage cast in this screen adaptation of Alan Bennett's award-winning theatre comedy. Griffiths is Hector, an inspirational general studies teacher at a 1980s boys' grammar school with a reputation for unorthodox teaching methods - not least his penchant for fondling the pupils he offers rides home on his moped. To the boys (including a young Dominic Cooper and James Corden), Hector is an avuncular joke and their favourite teacher - until along comes Stephen Campbell Moore's Irwin to help them with the Oxbridge entrance exams. Think a sharper, British version of Dead Poets Society, realised with deadpan wit.

Caroline Westbrook, Metro, 9th May 2013

Radio Times review

I've watched Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian (Monday BBC2; iPlayer) twice now. I'll probably watch it another eight or nine times, in the hope that any of Allen's essence can somehow enter my soul. This was less a film about how to be a TV comedian, more a film about how to be.

Dave Allen had a spark, a glint. He had no fear. He knew he had his s**t straight. He trusted his mind. He was always looking for mischief. He was curious. He loved his family. He never stopped thinking. If it was funny, he'd say it.

You could see it as he bounded onto the stage to present his first big TV show, in Sydney in 1963. At 26, in his second foreign country - he'd left Ireland at 16 and left his friends The Beatles behind in England ten years later - he was brazenly flirting with the studio audience. He had it. Soon Australia had given Dave, unutterably sexy at that point with his black hair and charmed eyes, his own chat show, which from the clips in God's Own Comedian seemed to consist of him larking about aimlessly and assuredly with female co-hosts and, in one extended sequence, risking his life to demonstrate how to escape from a submerged car. Advised to stay in Australia and build on his success, Allen followed his first wife back to England and simply repeated it there.

This documentary about one of the best stand-up comedians in British TV history didn't actually contain very much of his stand-up, because what audiences were buying wasn't a series of jokes, but time with Dave Allen - a share of the drink that was normally in his hand, on and off stage. "They wanted him to like them," explained Mark Thomas, a writer for Allen's later shows. Allen's honest independence was alluring but it took him, quite naturally, to extremely controversial places.

The flint inside the laconic exterior was formed young. Allen's newspaper-editor dad, a major local celebrity, had died when his son was 12, leaving the family struggling. But before that, a Catholic education had woken Allen up. "They hit me. They pulled my hair. They punched me. They demeaned me. None of them were qualified teachers."

Allen's material about the Catholic church wasn't revenge, exactly. The Pope stripteasing, the "nuns farting next to lilies" and the rest came more from his fascination with humans at their hypocritical worst. He grinned widely when asked which of his routines about religion had offended the IRA: "Most of them!" If it was true, he'd say it. Allen was a mainstream household name but did sketches about Apartheid, because he wanted to. His popularity kept rising.

Craven celebs would have consolidated with safe options. Allen wandered off to present a series of proto-Theroux documentaries on eccentric and marginalised people, drawing on his equal fascination with humans at their best. He took a straight acting role as a man in mid-life crisis in an Alan Bennett TV play. Allen was "looking for the meaning of life", said one of his collaborators, and that didn't sound ridiculous.

About the only black note in this fantastic programme - which may have glossed over all sorts of monstrous flaws in Allen's character, although I suspect it didn't and don't much care - was his last full series for the BBC in 1990, which was dogged by green-inkers moaning about the swearing. We saw Allen eruditely explain in a Clive James interview that there are more important things in the world to worry about than "rude sounds", but the Beeb caved and Allen was wounded. It was an ironic, pathetic, trivial but illuminating example of what Allen stood against and why he mattered.

Not that he thought he mattered much, Dave Allen being one of the few things in which Dave Allen didn't take too much interest. He made the best show he could but then went home, exchanged his smart stage garb for scruffy linen, and got on with reading, painting, drawing, and hosting sprawling weekenders for his extended family and friends. The ghost stories he would petrify the kids with at the Allen house in Devon sounded like better gigs than any of the TV ones.

"He had these many many abilities but he held them quietly," observed his widow Karin. Allen knew it was just a ride and, as Cyril Connolly ambiguously said, you can't be too serious. Finally, God's Own Comedian dealt with the mystery of the missing forefinger on Allen's left hand, by refusing to answer it. He'd told everyone something different: as his associates related the tale they'd heard, they had his glint in their eye.

Jack Seale, Radio Times, 5th May 2013

New Channel 4 comedy The Mimic appears to have been built around the ability of its lead actor, Terry Mynott, to do impressions and there are moments when you wonder whether he provides a solid enough foundation. His Terry Wogan was very wobbly and his David Attenborough was a weird hybrid of Alan Bennett and Ian McKellen. Other impressions are so left-field they have to be visually signposted or cued up by a line of dialogue to make sure we get them.

But there was a promising little sequence as Martin (Mynott's character) sat slumped in front of his television and Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones fought it out over who was best at adding gravitas to a natural-history programme. It's a comedy of underachievement essentially, complete with marimba noodling on the soundtrack to signal the underlying pathos, but it has some lovely downbeat moments and funny silences where some comedies might strive (unsuccessfully) for a big guffaw. Look out for Jo Hartley as Martin's friend Jean too. She's very good, so quietly you might miss it.

Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent, 14th March 2013

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