Alan Bennett says proposal to put Rio statue on Primrose Hill is a ‘foolish idea'

Thursday, 8th March 2012


Published: 08 March, 2012

FACTS, not feelings, are what makes a successful journal, Alan Bennett told an audience of 400 gathered in Primrose Hill on Thursday.

The diarist and playwright was speaking at “An Evening with Alan Bennett” – a £10 benefit for the Primrose Hill library campaign, which sold out in just 10 days.

“I don’t write a diary every day,” he said at Cecil Sharp House in Regent’s Park Road. “Some of my days are so dull there is nothing at all to write, and sometimes when something does happen I think, ‘oh goodness, finally, something for the diary’.

“I think one tip at the end of each day is to sit and ask yourself whether anything has happened that is peculiar or odd and even if it is just a turn of phrase or something, and then to write it down.

“What I did want to avoid is emotions really, and describing emotional entanglements and describing that in great detail, simply because in a year or two years it’s embarrassing.

“I got told off for saying this, but I still think it’s true – Larkin, he used to write about his relationship with Monica Jones, his long-term girlfriend, which was very tortured, partly because he had lots of other girlfriends on the side.

“His letters, and probably his diary, although he destroyed his diary or it was destroyed for him, they are full of the ins and outs of that relationship and it’s just tedious. I think it is about facts for me. Facts rather than feelings.”

So far, £543,000 has been pledged for the library by 403 people, and 156 have said they will give up their time to run the newly refurbished library. Two weeks ago it was announced that the group would be given a 20-year lease from the council with the first six guaranteed rent-free.

Before introducing Mr Bennett, as a neighbour and the “boy racer of Chalcot Crescent” rather than a world-famous playwright, campaign organiser Dick Bird, said: “The amount that we raise will determine what sort of library can be afforded, how well resourced it can be and how secure it can be.

“We think we have enough to start, and, right from the beginning, this was about not just saving the library but transforming it into a modern and vigorous space.”

Many people in the room saw Mr Bennett, as Mr Bird does, as a friend and Primrose Hill local, and the informal atmosphere was soon filled with whoops of laugher at his characteristic witticisms.

Mr Bennett’s beloved Primrose Hill was a lively topic of conversation – although he admitted last week was the first time he had climbed the steep summit in a decade.

“I did walk up Primrose Hill for about the first time in 10 years a week ago,” said Mr Bennett. “This was a therapeutic walk. I have just had a hip replacement, and I have to go on three little walks a day. 

“I was puzzled by the concrete encasement at the top – whatever that is.

“And I am told, although I find this very, very hard to believe, they want to put a minute version of the huge statue of Rio de Janeiro on the top. I cannot believe that anybody would be foolish enough to want to do that – whether it is for the Olympics or whatever, or maybe some of the excavations at the tip are to do with that.

“I always liked the far bit of Primrose Hill, the rather neglected bit that doesn’t overlook everything – the back of Elsworthy Road, around there.”

Mr Bennett said he liked to glimpse giraffes poking out their heads from London Zoo.

• To get involved in the save the library ­campaign call 020 7586 8327.

Spreading word – Writer sends paper to island…

ALAN Bennett has been posting copies of his recent interview with the New Journal to library campaigners right across the UK – as far away as the Isle of Man.

Mr Bennett sent a brown paper envelope to Manx library campaigners containing a postcard and a copy of the New Journal folded to the page of his interview.

He had revealed, in a rare interview, his feelings about the threat to the Primrose Hill library.

The Prospect Union asked Mr Bennett for a message of support for their efforts to save the library.

He wrote to them, saying: “Thank you for your letter. Enclosed find an interview I did for the Camden New Journal which says all I want to say about libraries – and which applies as much to the Isle of Man as to NW1.”

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