When Alan Bennett first performed his Talking Heads monologue, he forgot his lines three times. Accordingly, the writer lost any and all desire to perform, maintaining his position behind the camera, where he is able to write instead.
The remake of Talking Heads will come to screens a week today, with all the monologues shot under strict lockdown conditions. Some old favourites will return, including Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer reimagining Julie Walters’ performance in Her Big Chance and Imelda Staunton succeeding Patricia Routledge in A Lady of Letters.
Yet there are some new monologues to enjoy too, which Bennett wrote a few years ago, and similarly forgot. Monica Dolan will perform The Shrine about a memorial beside the road following an accident, while Sarah Lancashire will look to An Ordinary Woman, which Bennett says is inspired by Jean Racine’s Phèdre, “which I did for school certificate in 1950 and have always felt to be a bit of a cop-out”.
Talking Heads have been part of Bennett’s life for over three decades, and a part of school curriculums for almost as long. He oft receives letters from the more eager students asking his opinion.
“Some of them, it was plain, thought that writing to the author was a useful way of getting their homework done for them; others were more serious, genuinely feeling that I could give them some clues as to the inner meaning of what I had written” he notes.
“I fell in with very few of these requests, generally sending a postcard saying their ideas about the monologues were as good as mine and they should treat me like a dead author who was thus unavailable for comment.”