Few diarists capture the rhythms of daily life quite like Alan Bennett. Born in Leeds in 1934, it was in the early-1970s that this beloved playwright began to keep a diary, sporadically scribbled on loose sheets of paper that would later be bundled to form twelve months of insights, reflections, and curiosities. Bennett’s diary entries, much like his acclaimed plays, hum gently with his trademark wit, warmth, and piercing observation, his Northern accent almost audible on the page as he breathes life into the mundane and retells anecdotes with precision. This one came in May of 1993.
The Diary Entry
15 May, Yorkshire. Sitting in the car at Richmond, waiting while R. has a look round, I see out of the corner of my eye a middle-aged woman crossing over towards the car with a broad smile on her face. I assume I have been recognised and am about to be accosted, and compose my features in a look of kindly accommodation. Even so I am a little taken aback when the woman, without even knocking on the window, actually opens the car door. Still, I don’t show any surprise – this is a fan, after all. But not merely does she open the door, she gets in, sits down beside me, and closes the door. Still I make no protest. She settles herself, then finally turns to me, still smiling. ‘Only in Yorkshire … Bloody Hell! I’m in the wrong car!’ and bolts, running back along the pavement to her by now wildly gesticulating husband. The person who is really shown up by the story is, of course, me.
Since 1983, excerpts from Alan Bennett’s diaries have been published annually in the London Review of Books, and those can be read, with a subscription, on their website. You can also hear Bennett reading some of those entries on the LRB YouTube channel (see the playlist on the right for other years).
Bennett’s diary entries have also been collected into his published volumes, such as:
- Writing Home (1994): Includes diary entries from 1980 to 1995.
- Untold Stories (2005): Includes diary entries from 1996 to 2004.
- Keeping On Keeping On (2016): Includes diary entries from 2005 to 2015.
- House Arrest: Pandemic Diaries (2022).
In 2016, the BBC broadcast a fantastic documentary about Bennett titled Alan Bennett’s Diaries, but sadly it is no longer available on iPlayer. (The other week it appeared on YouTube—watch it soon as I imagine it will be taken down.)
Diary entry excerpted from Writing Home by Alan Bennett, first published by Faber & Faber in 1994. Reprinted with permission.