What national treasure Alan Bennett really thinks about York (and it’s not good…)

Writer of genius: The man himself in BBC2 programm Alan Bennett's Diaries. Photograph: BBC/Lonestar Productions
8 Jan 2017 @ 5.39 pm
| News

He is one of Britain’s undisputed national treasures – and one of the greatest living Yorkshiremen.

So it is all the more upsetting to find Alan Bennett putting the boot in to the capital of God’s own county.

The writer, performer, satirist and all-round good egg recently published the latest volume of his diaries, Keeping On Keeping On.

It is filled with waspish observations, none more so than on York.

In an entry from August 29, 2009, he writes: “York as always a disappointment and each time I vow never to come again…”

He says that “the best bit the cafeteria at the Spurriergate Centre which is friendly, lively and not tourist-driven”.

On a visit to see the stained glass at All Saints Church in North Street, he finds “It’s like a scene from a Powell and Pressburger movie with a group of amateur players getting into costume for a dress rehearsal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream“.

A trip to Holy Trinity Church on Goodramgate brings a similar story. “Here, too, a performance is going on with a character in a battered top hat performing some monologue about the Black Death to a group of blameless tourists whom he has corralled in the pews.

“The performer has a loud sergeant-majorly voice compounded by his over-acting so that box-pewed though it is the church provides no escape.”

‘Like Waterloo at rush hour’

So the party moves on to the city’s greatest marvel.

We give up on Holy Trinity and try the Minster – where nowadays there is no entrance at the west door or the north transept, everyone funnelled in at the south transept door opposite the Roman column at the top of Stonegate.

We get just inside the door to a scene like Waterloo in the rush hour, the crossing packed with people, aimlessly milling about, some (like me) reluctant to pay and so not going through the turnstile, others staring vacantly round and the crowd robbing the space of all its wonder and (what I found as a child its particular attribute) the acoustic.

Thankfully he does return to York, for a reading in November 2012. It goes OK, he records, although there are fewer laughs than usual from his audience, mainly made up of teachers.

York in 1948

Alan on his bike in the BBC documentary

Bennett also includes an interesting entry about the Royal Show coming to York in Keeping On Keeping On. In a diary entry from April 2009 the writer, who is originally from Leeds, recalls going with his school to the Royal Show in 1948.

He writes:

I’ve no recollection of there being anything to do with farming, no prize bulls or sheepdog trials, and what stands out in my mind was that there was a good deal of free literature on offer.

None of us schoolboys had ever come across this before and we dashed round the various pavilions stocking up on brochures about milking machines and silage pits, poultry catalogues and pamphlets about scrapie plus the latest in tractors and combine harvesters.