Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Uncommon Reader

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The Uncommon Reader

A Novella

by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 128 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 128 pages

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Author and actor Alan Bennett was born in Armley in Leeds, Yorkshire in 1934. He attended Leeds Modern School and learned Russian at the Joint Services School for Linguists during his National Service, during which he attended Cambridge University. After this, he applied for a scholarship to Oxford University, from which he graduated with a first-class degree in History.

In 1960, after some time teaching and studying at Oxford, Bennett, along with Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Peter Cook, achieved instant fame by appearing at the Edinburgh Festival in the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe.

Bennett's first stage play, Forty Years On, was produced in 1968. Many television, stage and radio plays followed, along with screenplays, short stories, novellas, a large body of non-fictional prose and broadcasting, and many appearances as an actor.

He received worldwide recognition with his screen adaptation of his play The Madness of King George III, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He followed this success with The History Boys, which won thee Olivier awards and six Tony awards. In 1997 Bennett revealed that he was being treated for cancer, and, believing it would be published posthumously, he wrote Untold Stories. In fact, his cancer went into remission, enabling him to continue to write and perform.

He lives in London with his partner of more than fifteen years, Rupert Thomas.


Beyond The Fringe was so popular that it went on to sell out in London's West End and successfully transferred to Broadway. It also, almost single-handedly, kick-started the sixties satire boom.

After Beyond The Fringe, Peter Cook founded the satirical magazine, Private Eye, and opened a club in London's Soho called The Establishment, which hosted many leading comedians of the sixties and seventies.

For many years, Cook also formed a double-act with Dudley Moore on TV and on record. Moore, a talented musician (he won an organ scholarship to Oxford) also enjoyed a brief career as a Hollywood sex symbol (10 and Arthur); Peter Cook died in 1995, Dudley Moore in 2002.

Jonathan Miller has enjoyed a notable and varied career as a neurologist, theatre and opera director, television presenter, humorist and sculptor. He is best known to many as the writer and presenter of the BBC documentary series The Body in Question, and is now one of London's leading theatrical producers, staging many acclaimed operas and plays.

This article was originally published in September 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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