‘I never used to bother about capitalism. It was just a word. Not now.’


From The History Boys, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2006

From London Review of Books:

17 April. Shots of the cabinet and the ex-cabinet at Lady Thatcher’s funeral in St Paul’s just emphasise how consistently cowardly most of them were, the only time they dared to stand up to her when eventually they kicked her out. What also galls is the notion that Tory MPs throw in almost as an afterthought, namely that her lack of a sense of humour was just a minor failing, of no more significance than being colourblind, say, or mildly short-sighted. In fact to have no sense of humour is to be a seriously flawed human being. It’s not a minor shortcoming; it shuts you off from humanity. Mrs Thatcher was a mirthless bully and should have been buried, as once upon a time monarchs used to be, in the depths of the night.

1 November. Never having worked in the Olivier, coming in for the dress rehearsal for tonight and tomorrow night’s National Theatre Gala I immediately get lost and end up clambering about in the band room. The dressing rooms, when I reach them, are cells arranged round a central well, with the actors often shouting across to one another from their uncurtained cubicles. Coming in this afternoon Maggie Smith said: ‘Oh God. It’s like a women’s prison.’ She didn’t mean just any women’s prison but the penitentiary that used to stand on the corner of Greenwich and Sixth Avenues in New York. Relations of the inmates used to gather on the sidewalk to shout up to their incarcerated loved ones in a performance that was a tourist attraction in itself.

Opposite my dressing room across the well is Judi Dench, one storey down are Alex Jennings and Penelope Wilton, with the next dressing room dark, the window slightly ajar and a thin skein of smoke ascending: Michael Gambon. I envy them all, since appearing regularly on the stage as most of them do this occasion is almost routine. I haven’t acted onstage for twenty years and am petrified. That the extract from The History Boys isn’t until ten minutes before the end makes it no easier. Still the dress rehearsal goes well, after which Nick Hytner rehearses an elaborate curtain call that grows out of Frances de la Tour’s final stage manager’s speech (‘Plays, plays, plays’) from The Habit of Art. I’m genuinely proud that it’s my words that end this remarkable show even though I wish I didn’t have to perform in it.

8 November, Leeds. Walking along Wellington Street towards City Square I pass the offices of the probation service, now plastered with protest leaflets and posters from Napo against the selling off of the service, protests that in my view are wholly justified. The notion that probation, which is intended to help and support those who have fallen foul of the law, should make a profit for shareholders seems beyond satire. As indeed is the proposal to take the East Coast line out of what is virtually public ownership and reprivatise it for the likes of the expatriate Branson. I never used to bother about capitalism. It was just a word. Not now.

“Diary”, Alan Bennett, London Review of Books