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Untold Stories Paperback – March 20, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bennett has been known to British audiences of radio, television, stage and screen for decades. In the United States, he's best known as the screenwriter of The Madness of King George and, perhaps, for his experiences with Miss Shepherd, an indigent woman who set up a succession of vans in his front yard for 15 years. Now he returns with a shaggy collection of autobiographical sketches, diary entries, considerations of art, architecture and other authors, as well as an account of his bout with colon cancer. Returning to the precincts of his straitlaced, working-class British background, Bennett reveals a lost world whose influence and mores have trailed him his entire life. He revisits the Leeds that he knew in the 1940s, where he was first exposed to music and theater, and where his parents, both shy and retiring people, set lack of pretension as the highest value. While he plays the old crank who is put upon by the world as it is, Bennett reveals an eye for detail and a feel for the complexity of human interactions. And though he laments at length his own late maturation—physical, sexual and intellectual—and lack of sophistication, he shows himself to have achieved a measure of happiness. B&w photos. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Surprising, funny, and deeply affecting . . . [Alan Bennett] is a prose stylist of disarming grace and sly humor. (The New York Times Book Review)

Untold Stories is intelligent, educated, engaging, humane, self-aware, cantankerous, and irresistibly funny. You want it to go on forever. (The Sunday Times (London))

Painfully intimate, stoically comic . . . Bennett's deadpan, self-deprecating humor translates perfectly. (David Gates, O, The Oprah Magazine)

A great achievement and a book of lasting value. (The Guardian (U.K.))

A masterpiece of reminiscence. There is probably no other distinguished English man of letters more instantly likable than Bennett. (Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World)

It is a glaring example of modern English frivolity that [Bennett] is not simply regarded--with awe and terror--as one of the greatest living English writers. . . . If you want to understand the cultural wars in England now, and if you want to come to grips with a great writer and a challenging mind, then Bennett is your man. (The Nation)

While he plays the old crank who is put upon by the world as it is, Bennett reveals an eye for detail and a feel for the complexity of human interactions. (Publishers Weekly)

[Bennett] is a fine storyteller. . . . His memories of fellow actors Peter Cook and Dudly Moore are wry, witty, and honest. (Library Journal)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312426623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312426620
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,012,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Bennett is a renowned playwright and essayist, a succession of whose plays have been staged at the Royal National Theatre and whose screenplay for The Madness of King George was nominated for an Academy Award. He made his first stage appearance with Beyond the Fringe and his latest play was The Lady in the Van with Maggie Smith. Episodes from his award-winning Talking Heads series have been shown on PBS. His first novel, The Clothes They Stood Up In, was published in 2000. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It's a collection of reminiscences and essays that, taken together, form an autobiography of Alan Bennett. The account of his Yorkshire childhood and family is at the beginning, and that of his bout with colon cancer at the end, but the cobbling together is slightly random, so that some pieces are just tipped in anywhere, and there are occasional verbatim repetitions of quite long passages. I wouldn't recommend starting at page one and reading through the whole six hundred and fifty-three pages but it's addictive to dip into.

Many of the references to the British theatrical and television scene will be mysterious to Americans. A short test follows on which you may allocate yourself scores as a potential reader:

Lived in Britain before 1970 (6 points)

From Yorkshire (3 points)

Gay (1 points)

Interested in one of the following:

Good writing (3 points)

Beyond the Fringe , Monty Python, and the 1960's English satirists (3 points)

Treatment of depression.(1 point)

Treatment of cancer (1 point)

London theater (3 points)

Painting (1 point)

Old English churches (3 points)

Dealing with the homeless (3 points).

Anyone with a score of 9 or more should read it.

He is opinionated, with left-wing but often reactionary views. His account of the social changes in Britain over the last fifty years is perceptive and informative. (Some of the ground in the Beyond the Fringe etc reminiscences is covered by Humphrey Carpenter's "Great Silly Grin.") He's very humble and self effacing (but manages, in the nicest most modest way, to drop in stuff about his Oxford scholarship and first class degree, and being offered a knighthood, and how the Prince of Wales liked his play). At the end I felt quite brash and materialistic and arrogant.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth R. Ash on March 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Alan Bennett has had a wonderful life. Educated at Oxford as a scholarship boy,he became a medieval scholar, a part of a leading Broadway revue," Beyond the Fringe," an actor, world class playwright and author, He mixes with the rich and famous and yet he is full of insecurities, shy, uncertain about his sexuality , worried about his late maturity,and even questions his talent. The book is stories from different stages of his life written with painful frankness and such humour that you laugh out loud, and yet you wonder about a man who always takes sandwiches on trips, and travels economy class, when he can own a million pound home in London. He seems haunted by his childhood in working class Yorkshire and he brings his Mam and Dad and the rest of the family to life just as much as the more famous names of his adult days. Mr Bennett is never boring never dull. It is hard to put this book down.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on October 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
I don't quite know how to describe this book in a way that will convey enough information to give you an inking if you would like it or not.

First some description perhaps:

This is a somewhat random collection of writings from one of the premier British playwrights of our time. They vary from reasonably serious such as the introductory story on his father and mother, and the concluding story on his surviving cancer.

Other stories deal with some of the plays he's written. The story of 'The Lady in the Van' is particularly appealing. You see, Mrs. Shepherd drove her van into his garden in 1974 and asked if she could park it there for a while.

'A while' turned out to be fifteen years. And she lived in the van. In 1999 he wrote a play about her that starred Maggie Smith. And the section describing the play is a cross between the story of Mrs. Shepherd (he finds a Mr. Shepherd very hard to imagine) and the writing of the play.

Some dialog from a draft version of the play:

'Mr. Bennett. Will you look under the van?'

'What for?'

'One of these explosive devices. There was another bomb last night and I think I may be next on the list.'

'I can't see anything because of all your plastic bags.'

'Yes and the explosive's plastic so it wouldn't show, possibly. Are there any wires? The wireless tells you to look for wires. Nothing that looks like a timing device?'

'There's an old biscuit tin.'

Rolling on the floor laughing? No. A delight to read? Absolutely.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By R. K. Dillon on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I gobbled this book down. It was better than a box of chocolates. For 3 nights I sat on my couch & felt as if I were having a dialogue with a particularly entertaining companion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on March 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
Garrison Keillor talks about shy people on his radio program and Alan Bennett describes his parents as being exceedingly shy. The humor of each author attains a similar register. Amusingly, though, this author describes himself as having a reputation in the family as a show-off.

Alan Bennett's parents struggled not to be common. There was a notion that Alan and his brother and his parents were a peculiar family and that they were set apart. When Alan saw his father in leisurewear he barely recognized him, his father having always worn a suit. The father's dream was of a smallholding.

Bennett notes that aunties are agents of subversion. They drink a bit and use scent. They attend late showings at the cinema. The aunties engaged in splashy behavior. Alan Bennett's burden of his youth was that he took a long time growing up.

It is asserted that diaries lengthen the days. AB has published excerpts of his in the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS. The diarist describes the filming of DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME. The photographs of family and friends in the book are great. Bennett compares Isaiah Berlin to George Steiner.

Bennett declined an honorary degree from Oxford because he felt the university should not have established a Rupert Murdoch Chair in Language and Communication, believing Murdoch to be a bully. Bennett writes about writing THE WOMAN IN THE VAN, Miss Shepherd, whose van was parked in his garden for fifteen years. In his play he used composite characters to represent neighbors and social workers.

The pieces in the book on art appreciation, urban renewal, Philip Larkin, and Denton Welch are of interest as opportunities for Alan Bennett's dry wit to be displayed. Larkin was a poet of England at a certain time.
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