Discovering Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, these six monologues, written by Alan Bennett in 1987 and published as Talking Heads, were recorded in 1991. I came across this set, on cassette tapes, on a colleague’s desk the other day and borrowed them. talking headsYou may have noticed that I am coming rather late to the party, but as I was in the Far East for the best part of the 90s (bar 1999 actually) the Talking Heads phenomenon missed me completely. Then after I returned to England, I missed them on TV too as it’s difficult to find  time to view your favourite shows when two small people are demanding all your attention. So there has been a Talking Heads-shaped hole in my cultural consciousness for some time. Luckily (depending on your point of view) I drive a rather elderly car from 2001 which, while lacking the mod cons of new technologies such as electric windows and CD player, does have a fully-functioning cassette player. One of the bonuses of having such an antiquated sound-system in my car is that my two children, now in their late teens, can sing along to a host of old classics by the likes of Johnnie Cash, Roy Orbison and Steel Pulse and many others from the 50s to the 80s which I recorded on tape years and years ago and played relentlessly on family trips. Another, of course, is that I have had the opportunity to listen to this wonderful collection of spoken words while I’m driving around. Alan Bennett first featured in the public psyche in 1960 as one quarter of a team that wrote and performed the legendary comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe, which played in the West End for two years before going to Broadway in 1962. The other three writers were Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller. Since then he has written many very successful plays; probably the best-known of his works include An Englishman Abroad, The Madness of King George III (subsequently an Oscar-winning film) and Talking Heads. thora hirdThe monologues are performed by a handful of Britain’s leading actresses, including Patricia Routledge, the late Anna Massey and Julie Walters, along with Bennett himself. The characters are those that can be found in any town; not necessarily anyone you will have noticed, but regular people each with their own vulnerabilities and self-delusions. In A Chip in the Sugar, Graham lives with his widowed mother, quite happy being her treasured son, companion and carer until an old flame re-enters her life and threatens to spoil everything. In A Lady of Letters, Irene finds dissatisfaction wherever she looks and makes sure to voice her gripes on her Basildon Bond paper, until she eventually finds happiness in the most unlikely circumstance. In Bed Among the Lentils, Susan plays the wife of the parish vicar faultlessly, or so it seems, until a slip in the vestry under the influence of the communion wine forces her to confess her alcoholicism. In Soldiering On, Muriel’s life is drastically changed for the poorer following the death of her husband, but she starts to find joy in things she had never before appreciated. In Her Big Chance, aspiring actress, Lesley, kids herself that she is on the path to a serious acting career. In A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, the late Thora Hird, probably the most iconic of all the Talking Heads, gives us Doris whose obsessive cleaning has caused several tragedies in her life, the latest of which will almost certainly be her last. The stories are full of bittersweet ironies and sadness, but also a lot of humour. I laughed out loud many times, especially at Graham’s descriptions of his mother’s “fancy man”, and vicar’s wife Susan’s cutting sarcasm. Bennett’s observations are frighteningly accurate; all the worst traits of small-mindedness are collected here for our horror and delight. I am left wanting more, and happily the second six monologues are published as Talking Heads 2. I wonder if they are still available on cassette tape…………


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