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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 May, 2004, 05:09 GMT 06:09 UK
Alan Bennett's winning words
Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett has enjoyed a long and distinguished career
Author and playwright Alan Bennett is celebrating his 70th birthday on Sunday. BBC News Online take a look back at his long career.

Alan Bennett remains one of Britain's most popular and prolific authors and playwrights.

His rise to fame began in 1960 when he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival alongside Dudley Moore, Peter Cooke and Jonathan Miller.

They performed a satirical revue, called Beyond The Fringe, which Bennett also co-wrote.

The show was so popular that it went on to become a massive success playing to packed houses in London and on Broadway in New York.

Writing for the stage was the direction his early career took, but it was not long before Leeds-born Bennett also turned his attention to television.

Virginia Stride, Alan Bennett and John Sergeant
Bennett starred in On the Margin with Virginia Stride and John Sergeant

With his observant eye for the absurdities of modern life and a sharp ear for dialogue, his work transferred easily and effectively onto the screen, with some of his best ever work written for the small screen.

The critically acclaimed BBC series On the Margin began in 1966 and effortlessly weaved satire into apparently innocuous comedy sketches, poems and songs.

But it was his Talking Heads monologues for BBC television in the late 1980s which propelled Bennett into the national consciousness.

His gripping stories of sedate suburban existence combined with his ability to reach out and touch every human emotion made compelling anecdotes.

Highlights of the first series in 1987 included Thora Hird in A Cream Cracker Under the Settee and A Chip In The Sugar, the role that Bennett himself played.

'Incomparable'

Peter Hepple, theatre critic for The Stage, told BBC News Online Bennett's character-driven monologues were his masterpiece.

He said: "Bennett's stage plays are extremely appealing, not only to lovers of the theatre, but to people who just like his work.

"He is an intellectual, but not an intellectual writer and very down to earth with it.

Thora Hird in A Cream Cracker Under The Settee
Thora Hird won a Bafta for A Cream Cracker Under The Settee

"People can relate to his character-driven stories because they are based on real life.

"The Lady in the Van was based on a woman who actually who lived in a van in his street for 15 years.

"I don't think there is anyone who can write like him. He is incomparable to anyone else."

Bennett's collection of prose writings and reminiscences, called Writing Home, went on to become a bestseller.

And during the 1990s, his vivid adaptation of Wind in the Willows, which received rave reviews at the National Theatre, was dramatised for BBC Radio 4.

More recently, ten autobiographical monologues, in a series called Telling Tales, were also broadcast on Radio 4.

They featured snapshots of childhood memories from his schooldays to life as an undergraduate in Oxford.

But despite his successes in later life, the son of a Yorkshire butcher came from more humble beginnings.

Beyond the Fringe
Beyond the Fringe launched the careers of all its stars

Born in Leeds on 9 May 1934 to working-class parents, Bennett was a pupil at Leeds Modern School and went on to win a scholarship to study at Exeter College, Oxford at 20.

After getting a first-class degree, his appeared destined for life as a history don, but the roaring success of Beyond the Fringe took him down a different path.

But Bennett never lost his common touch or sense of roots that has defined his distinguished work and taken him to the top of his profession.

One of his greatest achievements came with his 1991 play The Madness of George III which was a critical and box office hit.

Three years later, his adaptation for the big screen was equally lauded with an Oscar nomination.

As he begins his 71st year, his new play The History Boys returns to his Yorkshire roots.

Set in a grammar school in the early 1980s, the nostalgic play opens at the National Theatre on 19 May.




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