'I am one of those boys, state-educated in the Forties and Fifties, who came by the words of Hymns Ancient and Modern by singing them day in, day out in school every morning at assembly. It's a dwindling band...you can pick us out at funerals and memorial services because we can sing the hymns without the book.'
To mark their 30th anniversary, the Medici Quartet asked composer George Fenton and writer Alan Bennett to collaborate on a piece for performance at the Harrogate International Festival. The result was Hymn, a meditative piece, by turns humorous and melancholy, in which Bennett observes the great role which music played in his childhood, his father's doomed attempts to teach him the violin, and what hymns mean to him now.
The illustrative suite for strings, beautifully played by the Medici Quartet, draws on a range of musical references including Elgar, Delius and several well-known hymns. Recorded for Radio 4 in front of an audience at the BBC Radio Theatre, Hymn is prefaced by an introduction from the Alan Bennett, whose wry observations of life have made him one of the country's best-loved and most famous authors.
To be broadcast on Monday 6th May at 2.15pm, Hymn is already available for those who cannot wait on cassette, £6.99 (ISBN 0563 536 896) or CD, £8.99 (ISBN 0563 536 90X).
An Englishman Abroad
Micheal Gambon and Penelope Wilton star as Guy Burgess and Coral Browne in this full-cast drama. Based on a real life chance encounter, Coral Browne is astonished when, during a tour of Moscow with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre's production of Hamlet, a dishevelled Burgess bursts into her dressing room. It is 1958 and, having disappeared from England with fellow diplomat Donald Maclean seven years previously, spy Burgess is much sought after by the english press. He invites Ms Browne to his flat, and curiousity ensures that she accepts.
The memory of that meeting, and the uneasy friendship which they forge, will remain with her for the rest of her life. Alan Bennett's masterful play is, by turns, poingant and comic aas it examines Burgess' life in exile and contrasts his love of England with his even greater love of communist Russia. This new release also includes a special introduction by the author. Priced at £6.99 (cassette) and £8.99 (CD), this BBC Radio play last an hour and has an ISBN 0563 535784/792.
Talking Heads I
This collections of monologues stars Alan Bennett, Patricia Routledge, Anna Massey, Stephanie Cole, Julie Walters and Thora Hird. They are poignant, funny, and written with the author's powerful insight into human nature. As a TV series, a book, a stage play and on audio, Talking Heads has become a phenomenom. This is a CD re-issue, priced at £15.99 with ISBN 0563 558946. The double audio cassette is still available.
Talking Heads II
The follow up collection of astutely observed monologues read by David Haig, Eileen Atkins, Penelope Wilton, Patricia Routledge, Thora Hird and Julie Walters. This is another CD re-issue and is priced £15.99 with ISBN 0563 558059 (the cassette issue is also still available).
The Complete Talking Heads
Following thier huge success in hardback, the paperback version of this book is available from the 6th September. Containing both series of the Talking Heads monologues - the first was written for BBC Television in 1987 and the second eagerly awaited series was written in 1998. At the author's request, this collection also includes 'A Woman of No Importance', making 13 stories in all.
The Clothes They Stood Up In.
Alan Bennett reads his quirky, wry and highly acclaimed story about the Ransomes, a couple who come home from the opera one evening to find that thier flat has been burgled. Not just a few choice items taken, but then entire contents, even the toilet paper. Nothing will ever be quite the same for them, even when thier possessions mysteriously turn up again, exactly as they left them. This is a CD re-issue and runs to 140 minutes. Priced £12.99 and with an ISBN 0563 535229, the previously released cassette is still available.
It was an ordinary childhood - growing up in Leeds taught alan early on that 'life is generally something that happens elsewhere'. Following on from the phenomenal success of Writing Home, Alan Bennett reminisces about his early years - from his schooldays to undergraduate life at Oxford University. This is a CD re-issue, of the cassette, and is priced £12.99 with ISBN 0563 47808X. The paperback version of the book Telling Tales is also available priced £6.99.
Father! Father! Burning Bright
Comedy is mixed with farce and family relationships are revealed in a throwaway sentence in this moving tale which is semi-autobiographical in detail. This is a new release and is priced £12.99 on CD (£9.99 on cassette), ISBN 0563 477067/040 and runs for 1 1/2 hours.
Forty Years On
Alan Bennett stars in a new production of his acclaimed satirical comedy, thirty years after its original West End debut. tongue-in-cheek, the play-within-a-play weaves together a multigenerational story of England and the growing cynicism of a country going to war. Yet within the parody lies an almost-painful nostalgia for a more peaceful age and the misunderstanding of one generation by another. This is a CD re-issue and is priced £12.99, ISBN 0563 477954.
The Lady in the Van
Alan Bennett narrates the strange story of his unusual neighbour, as heard on BBC Radio 4. Also included is an extra episode in which bennett learns more about Miss Shepherd's past, and another short story, Uncle Clarence. Another new release, this is priced £12.99 on CD with ISBN 0563 535237.
Alan Bennett - Diaries 1980 - 1990
The eighties were a busy time for Alan Bennett, playwright, actor, and now diarist. His accounts of theatre troubles and even more troublesome critics are combined with memories of a writer's tour of Russia, life in New York and Camden, filming in Egypt and tales of a Yorkshire village. This CD re-issue is priced £12.99, ISBN 0563 388854.
The Laying on of Hands
Alan Bennett reads his long-awaited darlky comic story in which the fragile state of celebrity encounters a universal leveller. Clive has died young, in Peru, and in circumstances that make some of his many friends uneasy. The congregation gathered for his memorial service is unexpectedly distinguished; amongst the well-known faces and household names are pop stars, actors, politicians, and even members of the government. Such a remarkable assembly, with philanthropy and scholarship seated alongside much that is tawdry and merely fashionable, might, with only a little license, be taken as a version of England.
Why do they all know Clive? - and why does his death make so many of them anxious? Father Jolliffe, the young vicar taking the service, is also in a quandary. As a friend of Clive, and knowing the kind of life he led, what exactly can he say to this gilded but slightly tarnished throng?
It is only when Clive's friends in the congregation begin to stand up and share their memories of the dead man that a number of uncomfortable truths are revealed.
Yet another brilliant story from one of England's best writers, this audio release is avialable from the BBC Radio Collection on CD or cassette (ISBN 0563 536403/411) priced £12.99 and £9.99 respectively.