5:00pm Thursday 23rd October 2008
By Andrew Ffrench
Writer Alan Bennett has donated his personal papers to Oxford University's Bodleian Library.
A history graduate of Exeter College, Mr Bennett's writing career began with Beyond The Fringe in 1960s.
The archive includes original manuscripts, typescripts, handwritten notes and drafts for all the writer's stage and TV plays.
The collection also includes manuscripts for the playwright's memoirs, Writing Home and Untold Stories, and for novellas and short stories, including last year's The Uncommon Reader, which imagined what The Queen might read.
There are also diaries in an unbroken series from 1974 onwards, which are expected to be published by Faber after Mr Bennett's death.
The 74-year-old playwright told The Oxford Times that he had "no idea" what the papers might be worth.
The donation follows the sale last year of fellow playwright Harold Pinter's papers to the British Library for more than £1m.
Mr Bennett said: "I thought the papers were better off in Oxford, which I am associated with, rather than in the mid-west, where a lot of English manuscripts end up.
"I suppose it is a way of saying thank you for the education I had — not merely in Oxford but also beforehand in Leeds. I was entirely educated free by the state and I never had to think about how much it cost, in a way that students can only dream of now."
Mr Bennett stressed that the donation was not costing the Bodleian or the taxpayer, and added: "I say with some pride that I had a state education: school, university. None of it cost me or my parents a penny. It’s a situation which young people in education today can only dream of and this is wrong.
"I believe that free education is a right and would dispute the notion that unless one pays for education it will be undervalued.
"I think it is appropriate, too, that my stuff should be here in Oxford. My writing is nothing if not English, and however universal and unboundaried scholarship may be these days I wouldn’t want to be lodged in some mid-western university in America.
"At the Bodleian, I shall be rubbing shoulders with Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin. They might not be all that pleased — but I am."
Mr Bennett said that about 100 box files have already been deposited at the library.
He added: "I will be one of the last generation of authors who works on paper and not on screen — you drown in paper in the end.
"I tend not to throw things away, which is a blessing for bibliographers.
"The fact that a good deal of this is handwritten seems to delight the archivists at Bodley, but it has always dismayed me and there's so much. I'm quite glad to see the back of it."
Richard Ovenden, the library's keeper of special collections, said: "Alan Bennett put these box files together himself — he became an archivist in his own house.
"There is lots of rewriting and the manuscripts clearly reveal Mr Bennett's thought processes.
"This is a very exciting acquisition and we hope to be able to display the papers for the public at some point."
A selection of papers will go on display on Monday in the Old Bodleian Library.
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