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A creditable attempt, considering Bennett's refusal to contribute
on 10 December 2012
I assume most of those attracted to this book will already be familiar with Bennett and, like me, will have probably read both 'Writing Home' and 'Untold Stories'. Does this add anything to those two hefty tomes which, after all, provide an immense amount of fodder for even the most voracious of Bennett admirers? Well, having read it I'd say that, although there's not a great deal of new material here, it's value lies in pulling together various bits and bobs of fact and anecdote from numerous sources and adding enough titbits, some of which will be new to all but the most ardent Bennett fan, to provide a satisfying and worthwhile overview of both his private and professional life.
For example, there are revelations such as Bennett taking exception to the actor, Kenneth More, changing his script of the play 'Getting On' to make it (as More saw it) more palatable for the audience - and Bennett's sardonic speech at an award ceremony for its success during which, with typically dry humour, he virtually dismissed any personal plaudit due to the significant changes More had made to the production. Nor did I know that Bennett and Dudley Moore went through a long period of not speaking after Moore angered Bennett by changing their stage routine during a US tour. And the text is littered with many such insights.
There are quotes and references from many magazine and newspaper interviews Bennett has given over the years, both in the UK and America, which you won't find in either of the two previous mentioned works - one of which refers to Bennett's unguarded revelation of his relationship with Anne Davies and the ensuing publicity which followed.
Author Alexander Games makes a great show of how hard he tried to gain Bennett's approval and cooperation with this book but all to no avail. And, ironically, I found Games' account in the 'PostScript' chapter, quite a fitting and interesting end to the book. It deals with how, in desperation to get some kind of personal, one to one response from Bennett, Games made the journey to Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, where he knew of the (in)famous Cafe run by Anne Davies which was close by Bennett's rural retreat in that small village. He meets Davies and, eventually, it leads to a denouement which is typical Bennett and, perhaps inevitably, a suitable end to what can be reasonably called an unofficial biography.
I'd say Bennett fans will find this book well worth the effort, if only for the value of bringing together already known facts and stories about him, many of which may have become dimmed by time and are worth being reminded of. And when you throw in a healthy amount of material and articulately expressed subjective opinion and comment, it amounts to a work which I think Bennett himself would, perhaps, grudgingly acknowledge as being at least well researched. As for it being an enjoyable and informative read - I'd say yes, for everyone except perhaps Bennett himself, whose reticence and fierce protection of his privacy would no doubt result in some typically pithy riposte.