Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview by Brian Finch was published in the Radio Times on 27 February 1969. It is historically significant as it marks the first interview with Alan Ayckbourn to be carried in a major, national publication.

A Profile Of Alan Ayckbourn

When it was last publicly admitted that Alan Ayckbourn - producer and international playwright - was living in a council flat in Seacroft, near Leeds, he had a shoal of abusive letters by return of post.

He was, after all, not only a vital and successful partner in Alfred Bradley's radio-drama factory at
BBC Leeds. His play [Relatively Speaking] had received rave notices in the West End - and adapters everywhere were busily translating it into everything from Turkish to Argentinian.

"One woman was particularly indignant about it," says Alan laconically. "So I wrote back to her and pointed out that I would be able to feel a bit more guilty about it if it wasn't for the fact that the three flats next door to me all happened to be empty."

Relatively Speaking continues to go from strength to strength. But Alan Ayckbourn is still ensconced in Leeds - both in his flat and in his job as a member of the highly creative Leeds drama team.

"For one thing," says Alan, "I like the place and I like the work. I don't, after all, consider myself exclusively as a writer. Working on other people's work for a large part of the day helps me with my own. And then again, I've tried locking myself away from it all in a country cottage and trying to write, and all that happened was that I found myself going rapidly to seed.

"There is always the temptation when you do write a hit play to let yourself be gathered up in some sycophantic set. Successful young playwrights are, after all, nice things to be able to have at your party. But one of the beauties of living in Leeds is that it helps you to keep your feet on the ground. Most people around here, for instance, would be a lot more impressed to know that I'd written an episode of a television soap opera than a play which ran in the West End."

Alan Ayckbourn is twenty-nine and married with two sons. He was born in Hampstead and educated at a Sussex public school
[1] - but eighty per cent of his working life has been spent in the North.

"Which makes me," he says, "something of a misfit. It means I'm an alien in the North and a sort of displaced person in the South."

Alan Ayckbourn is a tall young man with a jumpy and off-beat sense of humour and the face of a benevolent imp. He is also very much a realist about his success.

"I suppose every writer who writes a hit play has a ghost chasing him. If people like your play you are, after all, faced with a decision. You can either write the same play again under a different title and probably enjoy at least three-quarters of your previous success over again. Or you can keep faith with yourself and try to do something different."

Alan kept faith with himself after
Relatively Speaking and wrote a completely different kind of comedy. It went over well at the Theatre in the Round in Scarborough, but London managements didn't want to know. [2]

Alan has no regrets about his decision, any more than he has about his professed preoccupation with comedy - which he has recognised as his particular forte since starting to write plays while working as an actor in Scarborough some years ago.

"I suppose there must be room for one clown in the writing business," he says. 'I mean, l know people are dying, but people are also living. And living, at that, in extraordinary and hilarious situations."

Website Notes:
[1] Alan Ayckbourn was educated at Haileybury in Sussex.
Relatively Speaking (originally titled Meet My Father) was premiered in 1965 at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, before transferring to the West End in March 1967. His next play, The Sparrow, premiered at the Library Theatre in July 1967 and although successful in Scarborough has never been performed professionally again. Conventional wisdom has it that it was never picked up in London, as Alan's producer wanted a play similar in tone to Relatively Speaking rather than the 'Pinter-esque' realism of The Sparrow with its lack of star roles.

Copyright: Radio Times. This edited transcription and the end-notes have been compiled and researched by Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.