Armley’s Alan Bennett to be the subject of illustrated talk

alan bennett armley library visit
Alan Bennett during a 2016 visit to Armley Library. Photo: Leeds Libraries

Born and bred Armley lad and famed playwright, Alan Bennett, is to be the subject of an illustrated talk exploring politics and the way they are expressed through his work, writes Keely Bannister.

Titled “Alan Bennett – Unexpected Activist”, the talk – taking place on Wednesday 18th September from 6pm at Leeds Central Library – will look at how Bennett’s strongly held beliefs around privatisation, austerity and disparity in education were influenced by his upbringing in Leeds:

“Bennett is not typically seen as a political author and this may be due to his public persona, or his use of humour, sometimes seen as incompatible with taking a political stand. From his early television work, however, Bennett brought those who are ignored or marginalised to our view and has regularly called out privatisation, austerity and disparity in education in his diaries, talks and plays. The roots of these strongly held beliefs lie in his Leeds upbringing, which shall also be a focus of the talk.”

Born in 1934, Alan was brought up in his family home on the ‘Hallidays’ in Armley, as well as spending time at his grandmother’s house in Wortley. 

Alan attended Upper Armley Church of England Primary School with fellow writer Barbara Taylor-Bradford, however they do not remember each other.

Bennett’s father worked as a butcher at the co-op on Armley Lodge Road before Bennett senior’s work took the family to live in Headingley when Alan was 12 years old. 

As previously detailed by the upcoming talks orator, Dr Kara McKechnie, Alan’s “Yorkshire is not one of beautiful countryside, proud civic architecture and quaint rows of red brick houses”

“In his memories, it is a landscape with very little colour of its own and has contributed to Bennett’s lifelong feeling that life is something that happens elsewhere: 

“‘It was a childhood dull, without colour, my memories done up like the groceries of the time in plain, utility packets‘.”

“These drab memories of Leeds, defined by soot-covered facades and subdued expectations, no doubt sprang from the limitations of the 1940s and early 1950s – in fact, young Alan’s first day at school was delayed by the outbreak of World War 2.” 

These memories haven’t stopped Mr Bennett enjoying trips back to his old stomping ground, including a recent visit to Armley Library, sending a postcard following the visit thanking staff for being “kind and helpful” whilst he conducted research. 

Dr Kara McKechnie is a Lecturer in Dramaturgy at the University of Leeds, who has regularly convened events and dramaturged the work of Alan Bennett at Leeds Playhouse.

You can book a free ticket for the talk Alan Bennett – Unexpected Activist – which is being held on Wednesday 18th September from 6pm until 7pm at Leeds Central Library – by following this link.


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