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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 15:50 GMT


Importance of being recognised

Stephen Fry and Lucian Holland unveil the monument

The BBC's Madeleine Holt: "A brilliant, subversive artist"
Oscar Wilde, the playwright and author who scandalised Victorian Britain, has been remembered with the country's first statue in his honour.

The bronze memorial, sculpted by Maggi Hambling, was unveiled in Adelaide Street, near London's Trafalgar Square.

[ image: Oscar Wilde scandalised Victorian society]
Oscar Wilde scandalised Victorian society
A Conversation with Oscar Wilde 1854-1900 depicts him rising from a granite sarcophagus. It owes its creation to a campaign and public appeal led by Sir Jeremy Isaacs.

It is inscribed with his words: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Ms Hambling said: "The idea is that he is rising, talking, laughing, smoking from this sarcophagus and the passer by, should he or she choose to, can sit on the sarcophagus and have a conversation with him.

"It is actually completed when a member of the public, a passerby, choses to sit down and have a chat with him."

Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland was present and great-grandson Lucian Holland helped actor and comedian Stephen Fry unveil the West End memorial.

[ image: Hambling:
Hambling: "I have always thought of Wilde talking"
Culture Secretary Chris Smith and Sir Jeremy also attended the ceremony.

Mr Fry, who portrayed Wilde in a recent film, said: "I think it is wonderful, a wonderful monument for the people of London and of England.

"He is depicted with a cigarette which in his day was a symbol of a young man's decadence and modernity and which is now a symbol of political incorrectness.

"Showing him smoking is yet again a big finger shoved in the face of society," Mr Fry added.

Chris Smith said: "He wrote like an angel, challenged prejudice, he took on the establishment and its perceptions.

"It's due to Oscar Wilde in many ways that we today can celebrate a society that generally appreciates diversity and the richness of diversity in our community."

Nigel Hawthorne: "On a pedestal"
The writer of The Importance Of Being Earnest died in 1900 in self-imposed exile in France after serving a debilitating prison sentence for homosexuality offences.

Sir Jeremy picked up the idea of a permanent memorial after it was suggested by the late gay film director Derek Jarman.

[ image: Wilde never recovered from prison]
Wilde never recovered from prison
Numerous prominent figures, including former Labour leader Michael Foot, leading actress Dame Judi Dench and Irish poet Seamus Heaney, supported the cause.

It was supposed to be erected last year but ran short of funds.

The unveiling saw Dame Judi Dench and Nigel Hawthorne reading an extract from his work A Woman Of No Importance.

But Nigel Hawthorne was not convinced about the sculpture. "I think he should have been on a pedestal because that's really how he saw himself. I think that would have been more appropriate," he said.

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