Alan Bennett's late masterpieces keep on coming as his 80th birthday nears
Alan Bennett did use a computer to write, but when it was stolen he didn't replace it. He admits he doesn't like technology.
Mobile phone? "I've got – an iPhone I think it is..." The familiar Leeds accent and wry tone immediately make you smile. "But I only use it as a telephone – I can't take photographs or use it as a spotlight."
The award-laden 79-year-old author is quite open about his antipathy for technology.
He now writes with a gel pen: "They are a godsend to me," says the man whose hands are not as flexible as they were thanks to arthritis.
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He did like using a typewriter, but "that's getting more difficult and they're almost archaic now".
So he takes his hand-written pages of script to the National Theatre: "They transcribe them there, which is very difficult for them…" That familiar voice trails off with a touch of guilt.
OK. He might not be a silver surfer on the internet, but he is still a terrific role model for those of us who face advancing years.
For even though he has had an incredibly long career, both as a writer and performer, he seems to be growing ever more prolific rather than slowing down – as a person approaching their 80th birthday might ("I won't do anything to celebrate. I just hope nobody notices.")
His body of work is prodigious, with Talking Heads, A Private Function and The Madness of King George just a few glittering highlights. Yet in the last decade, he has produced as much as some writers might hope for in a lifetime. There are novels, diaries and film scripts as well as new plays. His latest work for the stage, People, has finished a sell-out season at the National Theatre and is at Plymouth's Theatre Royal this month.
As well as making you laugh, Alan Bennett prods you with ideas of heritage and Englishness in People. Just what is England?
England here is a crumbling, decaying stately home. Former 60s model and Bright Young Thing Lady Dorothy is now swaddled in her fur coat just to keep warm and admits that personal hygiene is not at the top of her agenda.
The estate is a jungle and the roof leaks so badly that there's even a bath on the billiard table to collect the drips.
"This is England. You are its custodian!" says the grasping man from the National Trust who hopes to get his hands on the place – complete with its unusual collection of chamber pots filled with the wee of visiting celebrities.
"No… I just live here," says Lady Dorothy, played by award-winning actress Sian Phillips.
Lady Dorothy just wants it to be her home, but with no money around her, sister June, an Archdeacon in the Church of England, wants to hand it all over to the National Trust.
There have been vague money-making plans in the past: A golf course, a cookery school – a visiting bishop reckons it would make a good theological college.
Luckily, because he is having trouble with his new bifocals, he mistakes the people who are filming a porn film for a group from the WI making their new Christmas calendar.
Lady Dorothy would just carry on living there quietly as the house decayed around her. No "open to the public". No visitors. No people. "People spoil things."
Alan Bennett is quite firm about his opinions on that.
"Dorothy's solution is no solution at all. If it's a wonderful house, you have got to preserve it."
For Alan, the ideas in People are fascinating: part of the heritage industry? Or sold to the highest bidder who might just knock it down (carefully) and transplant it from chilly Yorkshire to the sunny South West?
"When the play first started it was taken by some to be a criticism of the National Trust," said Alan, denying that was the case.
"Some people assume that the main character is the voice of the author," he said. But he insisted: "You can't pin down the message of the play by finding out what the main character thinks. Some plays are tours around a subject and I think that's what this is."
He got the idea for the play from our heritage industry and the hoards of people it attracts.
"It was an itch and I still have it. When I go around country houses and sometimes exhibitions in the same way – I look at those other people and think: what have they come here for and have they found it? And what have I come here for?
"I find it hard to say what this play is about." But he insists: "It's not a lament for an England that's gone."
In fact he's very much a person of the England of now. And the common "national treasure" tag that's often assigned to him and the "cosy" cliché are not ideas he really recognises.
"It's just my image," he said. "When I'm gone and you go through my stuff, I think there will probably be a much harsher side or a much more thoughtful side," he said, while still managing to sound self-deprecating.
And as for his famously long essays which he publishes alongside his well-crafted scripts, he said: "I often think the prefaces are better than the plays."
He paused. "It's only a minor complaint. It's better to be appreciated than not!"
For fans who can't get enough of Alan's sharp observation, sharp wit and sharp analysis, there's the hope that he can be enticed down to Devon soon.
He has been invited to the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival which takes place every September.
"That's Hilary's lot, isn't it," he said, referring to Booker Prize wining Budleigh Salterton resident Hilary Mantel, president of the festival.
"She did ask me but I said no. I always did festivals but I did the same thing – just reading from my diaries – and I always think everybody's heard that before."
They would love it, I assured him.
"You think so? Well, I'll think about it," he promised.
The National Theatre's production of People is at Plymouth Theatre Royal from November 12-16.