Alan Bennett celebrates his 80th birthday today

2014-05-09
article-1338230-01370AD100001005-43_468x509One of Britain's most popular playwrights and authors, Alan Bennett, turns 80 today (May 9). Born in Leeds on May 9, 1934, Bennett came from a humble background, but scholarships afforded him studies at Cambridge and Oxford - where he gained a first-class degree in history. After attempting an academic career, his earliest works were satirical reviews and comedies, which went from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to being produced by the BBC in the 1960s. He continued to make shows for the BBC over the decades, most famously the 1987 series of monologues, Talking Heads. In recent decades, he has enjoyed strong links with the National Theatre, where he premiered The Madness of George III in 1991 and The History Boys in 2005. Both became theatrical success around the world and received multiple Academy Award nominations when they were adapted for film. The History Boys alone made stars of James Corden, Russell Tovey and Dominic Cooper - and featured a classic turn from the late Richard Griffiths. Bennett's other popular works include comic novella The Uncommon Reader (2007), which imagines The Queen as a late-in-life bookworm, and the play The Habit of Art (2009), which documents the young friendship of W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten. Bennett lives in Camden, London with his long-term partner Rupert Thomas. Although he has had relationships with men and women throughout his life, he has frequently dismissed attempts to label his sexuality. In a new interview with the BBC to mark his 80th birthday, he explained: "My objection about people knowing more about one's private life was that I didn't want to be put in a pigeonhole. I didn't want to be labelled as gay and that was it. I just wanted to be my own man, as it were." Alan Bennett is known for his humour, distinctive accent, and for making a strong mark in the evolving worlds of theatre, literature and television since the middle of the 20th century; he is a true British icon.