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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 13:55 GMT
The 'History Man' on Sir Malcolm Bradbury
Sher as Howard Kirk in the BBC's The History Man
Antony Sher as the libidinous and ruthless Howard Kirk
Following the death of Sir Malcolm Bradbury, Professor Laurie Taylor recalls how he came to be widely - and mistakenly - thought to be the real History Man.

My first acquaintance with Bradbury - at least literary acquaintance - was when The History Man was published.

Laurie Taylor
Laurie Taylor: "I used to try and deny it"
When it came out [in 1975], somehow or other, the story got around that the History Man was based on me.

Indeed, I was a sociology lecturer, and I was associated with leftwing politics, and I suppose that I had acquired some sort of reputation at York University for being a little bit wild and a little bit libidinous.

So people decided that I was definitely Howard Kirk. I used to try and deny it.

Oft-repeated rumour

Then I heard the television series was going to be made by the BBC with Antony Sher as Howard Kirk.

The History Man
Howard Kirk was a right-on lecturer, womaniser and Marxist poseur
I got a phone call from Sher, asking if he could come up and see me.

I had to say: 'Look, I've never met Malcolm Bradbury in my life, I don't know how the History Man could be based on me.'

He said he just wanted to see how a sociology lecturer conducted a seminar. So he came up, I conducted a seminar and he watched.

When the programme came out, I was dreading it - I thought I'd have even more people saying: 'You are Howard Kirk.'

Although I detected certain things in his mannerisms which were a bit like mine, I was really rather pleased. The Daily Mail hailed Kirk as a hero, an endearing chap.

So all of a sudden, I was really rather popular - it was good to be Howard Kirk.

First meeting

About six years later [1986], I was writing weekly satirical articles about British universities in the Times Higher Education Supplement.


He thought it extraordinary to be telephoned out of the blue by one of his own characters

Someone suggested a collection of them, and I thought it would be rather nice to have a preface from Malcolm Bradbury.

So I rang him up.

He was much taken by this phone call because a student had recently told him that he knew who Howard Kirk was.

He thought it extraordinary to be telephoned out of the blue by one of his own characters, especially as that person had become the original of one of his fictional inventions without his knowledge.

I met him in America several years later, when he gave a talk at the University of Colorado.

In this talk, [Sir Malcolm] explained how the process of drawing on real life for inspiration had been turned on its head.

'Was I a bit like that?'

He said: 'What I believe has happened is that Laurie Taylor had no existence whatsoever before I wrote The History Man, and that he is the one example of a person who has come into being solely as a result of a piece of fiction.'


When I read The History Man now, I think how well he captured the period

That business of Howard Kirk and Bradbury and me seemed to bind us into some peculiar relationship - it was as though I somehow knew him very well without having spent a great deal of time with him.

When I read The History Man now, I think how well he captured the period.

I'm now able to sit back and think: 'Good heavens, was I a little bit like that?'

If so, I probably deserved all the satirical energy he brought to bear in The History Man.


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Laurie Taylor
"The story got around that the History Man was based on me"
Laurie Taylor
"That business of Howard Kirk and Bradbury and me seemed to bind us"


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28 Nov 00 | Entertainment
28 Nov 00 | Entertainment
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