Entertainment & Arts

Alan Bennett rejected being 'labelled as gay'

Alan Bennett
Image caption Alan Bennett has given an interview to be broadcast a day after his 80th birthday

Writer Alan Bennett has explained how he guarded his sexuality for much of his career to avoid being pigeonholed as a gay playwright.

Bennett, who wrote The History Boys and The Madness of George III, spoke to BBC Four to mark his 80th birthday.

"My objection about people knowing more about one's private life was that I didn't want to be put in a pigeonhole," he told director Sir Nicholas Hytner.

"I didn't want to be labelled as gay and that was it."

He added: "I just wanted to be my own man, as it were."

Bennett is one of the UK's best-loved dramatists, and 2004's The History Boys was recently voted the nation's favourite play.

He has kept details of his personal life relatively private, although in recent years he has spoken about his civil partnership with Rupert Thomas, editor-in-chief of World of Interiors magazine.

He was also at the centre of a minor media storm in 1993 when it was revealed he was having a relationship with his housekeeper Anne Davis.

Once asked by actor Sir Ian McKellen at an Aids benefit whether he was heterosexual or homosexual, Bennett famously replied: "That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water."

And while discussing his life on BBC Radio 4's Front Row in 2009, he explained: "If there was any sex going, you'd go for it, but it didn't really matter which side it was on. There'd been something of both in my life, but not enough of either."

Image copyright AP
Image caption The History Boys is set in an English boys' grammar school

The writer turns 80 on Friday and the BBC Four interview, conducted by Sir Nicholas, the outgoing National Theatre artistic director, will be broadcast the following day.

"Looking back on your life, the things you remember are the things that you didn't do," Bennett said. "A lot of that will be to do with sex, I suppose.

"It's in my nature to feel somehow that one has missed out. It's my view of my own life except that I've been very, very lucky. I met my partner quite late in life and so the last part of my life is much happier than the first part."

During the interview, Bennett also revealed that he prefers contemporary US literature to English writers.

"I'm very ill-read. I know that sounds overmodest but it's quite true," he said. "I like American literature more than I do contemporary English literature. I like Philip Roth, for instance.

"I don't feel any of the people writing in England can tell me very much. That may be unfair."

He also explained that it has become more difficult to write as he has got older.

"I find it harder and harder to write, but then I always have found it hard to write," he said. "I never really believe in writer's block - all writing is writer's block.

"People say, 'Oh you've done so much.' It doesn't seem to me I've done so much. The stuff you've written isn't like upholstery - it's not something you can settle back in and think, 'I've done so many plays,' and so on.

"It's not a comfort - it's a rebuke as much as anything else. You think, 'Well, I can't do it now.' And writing is about now.

"It's about what you're doing this morning - what you're sitting at the table, staring out of the window trying to do. That's still the situation, whatever age I am."

The writer's work is also being celebrated with a season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in his home city of Leeds, beginning at the end of May.

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