Noted British playwright Alan Bennett in his latest diary in the London Review of Books pays homage to fellow "Beyond the Fringe" member Jonathan Miller.
For years, Bennett has brightened the new year with his annual chronicle of the previous 12 months, published in the LRB. Bennett's record of his life in 2019 runs in the LRB's Jan. 2 issue.
The polymath Miller, who died Nov. 27, excelled in medicine, the theater and television. He was especially known for his opera productions, and hosting the TV documentary "The Body in Question."
Rising from their college days at Oxford and Cambridge, Miller and Bennett joined Dudley Moore and Peter Cook in the satirical revue "Beyond the Fringe," which eventually played on Broadway.
Along with serene depictions of the London literary world and unhurried life in suburban Yorkshire, Bennett can be cutting in his views. An entry in his 2019 diary gives a chilly assessment of Miller.
"Ours was a not unrivalrous relationship, with neither particularly generous about the other's work," Bennett says. He confesses to never seeing one of Miller's operas, and suspects Miller never watched one of his plays.
Bennett ends on a warmer, regretful note. "Now that he's gone I feel remorse as well as sorrow. But, jokes apart, it was a question of survival. I needed to write. Jonathan needed one to listen."
The diaries increasingly chronicle Bennett's aging. This year's entries often reference Bennett lying on his couch or in bed, suffering from severe arthritis. He also gives an alarming account of a fall on his bicycle, from which he suffered bruises but no broken bones or head injuries.
A disturbing sign of Bennett's looming mortality is that the diary is much shorter this year; he missed several months during the spring and summer because of open-heart surgery.
With all of his suffering, the diary is again a treat of refined thinking, with references to obscure films, actors and British writers. The diaries reflect his cultured life in suburban Yorkshire, where he enjoys gardening, old houses and reading. Bennett's at times fussy writing reveals a disgust with conservative politics, an enjoyment of small town life and an appreciation for small pleasures.
His diaries mirror my own aging, giving me encouragement and comfort. I hope to read Bennett's annual missives for years to come.