When we were offered the opportunity to bid for An Audience Without Alan Bennett, the strength of feeling from everyone we asked made it a very simple decision!
Alan Bennett is famous for his work on television (Talking Heads), film (The Madness of King George, The History Boys, The Lady in the Van) and stage (too many to mention!), as well as his novels (The Uncommon Reader, Smut) and his diary collections (Writing Home, Untold Stories). He has also supported libraries over the years, sharing the importance his local library had to him, growing up in Leeds as a working class lad.
Bury Library was one of only fifteen across the country who were given the opportunity to host this very unique event; all held on the same evening to celebrate the publication of Alan Bennett’s new book Keeping On Keeping On. Because Alan Bennett has long been a champion of libraries, the idea was for him to appear virtually at these simultaneous library events and give people the opportunity to indulge in his famous wit and humour.
Organised by Profile Books and Faber & Faber, in conjunction with The Reading Agency, we were sent a presentation and video clips to play on the night, along with a fabulous hamper of Yorkshire tea, parkin, scones and other delicious nibbles. Co-operative Funeralcare also very kindly contributed to the spread with more festive treats. All we had to do in return was find seven volunteers to contribute to the evening itself; one Alan Bennett actor, one narrator and five members of the audience to read short extracts from the new book.
The initial call to arms for volunteers went out on 10th October and we were overwhelmed with requests from people wanting to get involved. On the night, the roles were taken by Peter Fitton reading as Alan, Kim Griffiths narrating, and Sadia, Rita, Linda, Heather and Vikki reading the extracts as audience members. Despite the best efforts of The Lady in the Van who, true to form, refused to perform when asked, the evening went well and everyone had a great time watching the performances. Peter even treated us to an extra, surprise monologue which was a marvellous addition. Just to finish the night off perfectly, we even managed to get The Lady in the Van to say her piece – better late than never!
There was also an Alan Bennett quiz on the night, and the publishers donated an Alan Bennett goodie bag prize which was won by J. Johnson. We also raised £15.41 for The Reading Agency’s Christmas Appeal.
It was a great community, interactive event, enjoyed equally by both the performers and the audience – I feel genuinely sorry for everyone who missed out on a ticket, but we hope to see you at the next one!
Fiona (The Reader Development Team)