wioe in a lifetime
A decade on from his seminal series of television monologues, ALAN BENNETT is back with Talking Heads 2.
Words: Steve Cramer
Alan Bennett is being handed a prestigious award. His play. Getting On. has been judged funniest of the year and the underwhelmed. slightly built. Yorkshire-born dramatist peers over the tops of his thick glasses as he delivers his withering speech. ‘To be given the award for Best Comedy is rather like taking great care and love nurturing your finest marrow.‘ he begins. mystifyingly. ‘but when you take it to the show you find you have won the prize for best cucumber.‘
That was 197]. bttt Bennett has maintained this attitude to the comic elements of his work ever since. His television. film and theatre work is darkly intentioned. but such is the sharpness of his observational dialogue. that audiences have frequently seen more humour than rancour in his writing.
Still. Bennett seldom finds his own work funny. and. a decade after Talking Heads — his legendary BBCZ straight-to-camera monologues performed by the likes of Maggie Smith. Thora Hird and Julie Walters — he has written Talking Heads 2 with an emphasis on the dark side.
‘I kept putting them aside and. even when they
‘Talking Heads 2 is sadder than the last lot. Joie de vivre has never been my strong point.’
Neighbourhood watcher: Julie Walters in Talking Heads 2
were finished. I left them in a drawer for a year as I felt they were too gloomy to visit on the public] he says. 'They‘re sadder than the last lot. There are jokes. but jnie de vivre has never been my strong point.’
The six pieces in this series emphasise the female performer. Five women (Patricia Routledge. Eileen Atkins. Julie Walters. Penelope Wilton and Thora Hird) and one man. David Haig. perform monologues which. as with the first series. emphasise the vacuity and ennui of middle-class suburban existence. ‘When I was a boy the women in ottr family did most of the talking.‘ he half-jokes.
But there is surely more to it than this. Bennett clearly sees women as the greater victims of ordinary life. employing self-deception as the strongest strategy for survival.
In the first of the series. Miss l'iizzard Finds Her Feet. Patricia Routledge plays a woman overly concerned with the condition of her feet. seeking the help of a chiropodist. Routledge’s monologue. as she speaks of her job in soft furnishings and her difficulties caring for an invalid brother. is redolent with irony.
Julie Walters’ return to Bennettland in The ()lli.\‘id(’ Dag sees her cast as a deluded housewife. who idealises her life without realising her complete alienation from the people around her or the arrest of her husband for an unspecified crime. Similarly. in The Hand Of (ind Eileen Atkins' antique dealer cannot acknowledge to herself that her ‘love of beautiful things' is. in fact. old-fashioned suburban avarice disguised as an appreciation of aesthetics.
The message? You may fool yourself. but you can't kid the speccy. little Northerner.
Talking Heads 2 starts on BBC2, Tue 6 Oct. 9.50pm.
Celebrity sofa surfing. This issue: Mark Cousins
Favourite TV show?
Probably Dr Who. It was uninhibited and Surreal, unlike most TV, Favourite TV snack?
Chinese food or toasted cheese. And lots of Wine!
When did you last shout at the TV? The World Cup final. I had 50p on France (and lots of \NIFTE).
Who would you be on Stars In Their Eyes?
God, these questions make you search your soul. It would have to be a girl. And that girl would have to be Marlene Dietrich. Or maybe DaVid BovVie as Ziggy Stardust.
Which TV personality makes you want to be physically sick?
There's a very smug woman called Juliet something who does a holiday show. For some reason I hate her. And Vanessa Feltz is a disgrace.
Who was the first person on TV you had a crush on?
I remember Blondie in a bin liner dress on Top Of The Pops. And I liked the idea of Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited spanking AloySius, his toy bear, for being naughty. Quite a confes3ion that.
I like the one where the guy uses a bra to kill the big monster and so all the girls take theirs off.
Greatest TV moment of all time? Thatcher crying as she left. Michael Forsyth’s defeat. And Portillo’s.
Who would be on your dream Top Of The Pops?
Some amaZing colliSion like James Dean Bradfield from the Mariics and Billie Holiday singing 'A Woman’s Needs', a beautiful John-Taupin song. If you could be in any TV show, past or present, what would it be? Brideshead Revisited (as AloySIus). Best ever TV theme tune?
The Beechgrove Garden. But it's tricky to Sing,
Greatest ever TV movie?
Alan Clark's film E/ephant, about Belfast. It’s uninhibited and full of
anger Mark Cousins presents Moviedrome, BBCZ, Sundays, around 70.45pm.
24 Sen—8 Oct 1998 THE lIST 97