Alan Bennett was born and brought up in Leeds and educated at Leeds Modern School and Exeter College, Oxford, where he read history. While doing postgraduate research he began to perform in cabaret, appearing first on the stage with the Oxford Theatre Group revue Better Late at Edinburgh in 1959. The following year he collaborated with Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore to put together the revue Beyond the Fringe which opened in Edinburgh and subsequently in the West End and on Broadway.
Bennett's first stage play, Forty Years On, starring John Gielgud as the Headmaster, was set in a public school and played for more than a year in the West End. Subsequent plays included Getting On (1971) and the farce Habeas Corpus (1973) with Alec Guinness, who also starred in Bennett's next play The Old Country (1977). Set in Russia, this was a play about a Foreign Office defector in exile, a subject to which Bennett returned in the television play An Englishman Abroad (1983) starring Alan Bates and Carol Browne and directed by John Schlesinger. Espionage of a different sort was the subject of a later play, A Question of Attribution (1988) which examined the treachery of art historian Sir Anthony Blunt.
Alan Bennett's other best known works include his adaptation of The Wind in the Willows (1990) for the National Theatre, The Madness of George III (1991, also for the National and subsequently an Oscar-winning film) and, for BBC TV, two series of the monologues Talking Heads. His collection of diary entries, essays and reviews, Writing Home, was Book of the Year in 1994.
Alan Bennett has made many recordings for the BBC, including The Lady in the Van about the eccentric Miss Shepherd, who lived in a van in his garden, and which he adapted for the stage in 1999 and for the cinema in 2014. 2005 saw the publication of his first major collection of writing since Writing Home. Untold Stories brought together the very best of his writing, as well as his much-celebrated diaries from 1996-2004.
In 2006, following a sell-out tour, Bennett's play The History Boys returned to the National Theatre for an extended run. Set in a boys' grammar school in Sheffield, it garnered many awards and went on to tour New Zealand and Australia and open in New York in 2006. It received six Tony Awards, and was adapted for the cinema that same year.
Among Alan Bennett's more recent work are the stage plays The Habit of Art (2009), People (2012) and Cocktail Sticks (2012) and the novella Smut (2011).show more