Alan Bennett was born in 1934 in Leeds. He studied at Exeter College, Oxford, then after a period of National Service, became a lecturer for a short time at Oxford University. His academic career was cut short when he co-wrote and starred in the satirical review Beyond the Fringe, along with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Jonathan Miller; first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960, it was an enormous success and later travelled to the West End and New York.
He then began writing for the stage, and later, plays for television. To date he has been an actor, director and broadcaster, and written prolifically for stage, television, radio and film. His first stage play was Forty Years On (1969). Other well-known stage plays include Habeas Corpus (1973), Kafka’s Dick (1987), The Wind in the Willows (1991), The Madness of George III (1992) and The History Boys (2004).
His first work for television was a sketch show, On the Margin, and he also wrote the television series Fortunes of War. His first television play was A Day Out, followed by several more television plays, five for the BBC, published as Objects of Affection and Other Plays for TV (1982), and five for London Weekend Television, published as The Writer in Disguise (1985). His two series of monologues for television, Talking Heads (1988) and Talking Heads 2 (1998), proved Bennett as the master of television monologue, a genre he had first anticipated in A Woman Of No Importance (1982) - his first play starring a single actress.
His stageplay, Allelujah!, has its world premiere in London this July, at the Bridge Theatre, to be directed by Nicholas Hytner who has directed many other Bennett plays. Bennett has written extensively for radio, including the much-loved radio play The Lady in the Van (1990), an autobiographical memoir of an eccentric woman who parked her car in his garden and stayed for 15 years (which has since been adapted for both stage and cinema). His writing for film includes A Private Function (1984), Prick Up Your Ears 1987), and The Madness of King George (1994), for which he was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation.
Bennett has also published various books, including several novellas and short-story collections. A best-selling collection of his diaries and reminiscences, titled Writing Home, appeared in 1994. In the memoir Untold Stories (2005), he looked back affectionately at his parents, poignantly reflected on his mother’s descent into senility and her death in a nursing home, and revealed for the first time that he had received treatment for what had been believed to be terminal cancer.
Keep On Keeping On, a selection of his diary entries from 2005 to 2015, was published in 2016. Bennett has declined both a CBE and Knighthood, as well as rejecting an honorary degree from Oxford University.
Over the years, Theatre by the Lake has produced three plays by Alan Bennett: Habeas Corpus (2001), The Lady in the Van (2008) and The History Boys (2012).