Interview: Sunday Express (5 August 1984)

This page reproduces some of Alan Ayckbourn's significant quotes from the interview.

When Mother Used To Type On A Kitchen Table…

by James Green

"I'd be prouder if I was on top [most performed playwright in the UK] when I've been dead for almost 400 years."

"I get accused of writing lightweight comedies. True once, but no longer. My style has changed and become deeper. Then, as a form of insult, I'm labelled middle-class. That's fine. I'm from a middle-class family and 60 per cent of the population are middle class. A lot of people calling themselves working class aren't that any more. Since I've only met one aristocrat and don't know life in the ghettos. I stick with the middle class and leave the extremes to those who know better."

"My father was deputy leader of the London Symphony Orchestra and my mother as Mary James was the queen of short story writers for women's magazines. She wrote highly specialised romantic-fiction, and novels, and my first memory is of her typing on the kitchen table. She re-married, he was a bank manager, and we lived in many parts of Sussex until at 13 I went to Haileybury. By the way, my maternal grandmother was a male impersonator, and grandfather was a Shakespearean actor and an impresario. I think he opened Streatham ice rink. Even as an amateur I felt at home in the theatre. So I tried
acting and spent eight years in repertory at places like Worthing. Leatherhead and Scarborough. I've done every job in the theatre, which was useful experience, and as an actor I was reasonable if never star-worthy or first rate."

"I finally made the West End at 25 with the play,
Mr Whatnot, in which Ronnie Barker appeared. The reviews were disastrous. That, I thought, was it. So I went to Leeds as a drama producer for BBC radio. Eventually I was asked for another play for Scarborough and came up with Relatively Speaking which was seen by several London managers. It ran in the West End for one year and I was on my way... How The Other Half Loves, Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests, Bedroom Farce."

"Now I'm writing and
directing. I've just bought a word processor and find I can revise and revise. As for first nights, I've grown hardened to them. But I don't read the reviews until four years afterwards. I've been physically sick before a first night, and when shows opened in London I would go to the pub for a drink to cure my apprehension. The trouble with the West End is you rise or fall on one night. You can only pray your horses will jump. Now I feel resigned and prowl around the back of the stalls, I sensed before the opening that the musical Jeeves, for which I did the book and lyrics, would be a flop. You must forget such disappointments quickly - but dine out on the story afterwards. All the best theatre stories are about disasters. Some you win, some you lose. The National produced my play Way Upstream, which had a boat on stage, and suffered technical mishaps galore. But it's been done elsewhere and works perfectly."

"I'm totally immersed in the theatre and spend 10 months at Scarborough and two months in London. I don't seek the bright lights and mine is really a quiet life by the sea. After 25 years I've become more adroit.
The Norman Conquests was three plays in one, and Intimate Exchanges goes still further. You can see different versions night after night. It is a piece of theatrical lunacy with 31 scenes and 16 endings. What fascinated me was how rarely we choose our lives. Fate does that for us. We say that fate is a one-in-a-million chance, whereas in my play it is one-in-16. It may seem like a complicated jigsaw or equation but it isn't that difficult. Because of the complexity, it took me nine months to work out and complete. Not the whole time of course. I was working on many other things as well…."