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Magnus Mills (far right), was born in Birmingham and brought up in Bristol. On leaving school at 18 he worked as a fencing contractor and tractor driver, but for the last 12 years has driven red buses in London. His first novel, 'The Restraint of Beasts', has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and his second will be published next summer. Aged 44, he lives in Brixton with his wife. Tim Perry, 37, is from County Tyrone, a free-roving traveller, writer and rock-reviewer. He has co-authored 'The Rough Guide USA' and the 'Rock and Roll Traveler USA', as well as guides to Britain and Ireland. He has also written speeches for trade unions. Briefly married in the States, he is now single again

XXXXXX e very much the same. We were both northern girls, deeply unsophisticated, though Valerie remembers me being able to handle it rather better than she did. I first met her in the locker room on our first day when we were just feeling our way around. She was a very gentle middle-class girl, not much money, rather timid. One was timid in those days. There was so much to cope with: the big city, living alone, and a course that one was ill-prepared for.

Leaving home to study was seen as rather a racy thing to do, though in truth the ratio of boys to girls was pretty hopeless. There was still National Service in 1956, so a lot of boys who might have wanted to act were doing that instead. But in fact it didn't make any odds to us because Valerie and I were completely and utterly untouched by human hand and deeply naive. We laugh about it all now, especially in the light of what girls are like today. Ours were such innocent times.

Valerie was a good girl in every respect, whereas I was nearly thrown out after our first year for not paying enough attention to my studies. By that time London had taken its toll. Valerie by contrast was very contained. She always did her homework and learnt her lines, and I don't remember her going to a lot of parties. On one occasion we took the same train home to Leeds and I remember her brushing her teeth furiously to get rid of the smell of cigarettes. I was rather blase because my parents already knew I smoked.

By our second year our paths diverged somewhat. I'd moved into a flat with an older Australian and American and my life began to be really rackety. Valerie remembers coming to a party there and bizarre things happening. This was pre-drugs of course. We're talking cheap plonk and I suppose heavy petting, but that's as far as it went. You couldn't get away with much more. We had record players, but it was Chubby Checker doing the twist and stuff like that.. And our clothes were absolutely horrendous. Girls of our age were expected to dress like middle-aged women. I was sent away to London with three sweater and skirt outfits and that was it. I think Valerie had even less, though she had the advantage of being extremely pretty. We wore girdles, for God's sake, even though there was nothing of us. And the height of fashion was to have a duffle coat.

But I'm making it sound rather dour. We actually had the greatest fun- outside RADA at any rate. In those days the teaching was pretty moribund for the most part. As soon as you arrived they'd assign you to a category -juvenile, leading lady, character actress or whatever - which was rubbish. There was no bringing out individuality as there is in drama schools today. We did movement classes, breathing, elocution, Shakespeare verse. And we girls had fencing classes, God knows why. It was all rather genteel.

The friendship with Valerie actually gelled quite a long time after RADA. We didn't meet up again until she was married to Georg and discovered that neither of us had changed very much though our circumstances had. I was delighted to discover that Georg was also a great maestro at bridge. I've played bridge ever since I was a walk-on at Stratford. I can't tell you how many entrances I missed because of it.

Anyway Valerie married a genius, there's no doubt about that. And she became the perfect wife. In order to live with a man like that you have to subdue your own ego to a great extent, and that's what Valerie did, par excellence. She devoted herself to him. Of course Georg was a huge man, hugely vital, and he dominated Valerie's and my friendship in the way he dominated everything, particularly in the way he let you know that he really liked to win at bridge! But I didn't mind being taken over when the person doing it was as fascinating as he was. I was happy to sit and listen.

As for Valerie, I'm fascinated by the idea of this dear shy girl who's still in there somewhere. She's wonderfully unpretentious, Valerie. Yet she's now a highly accomplished woman who has juggled a family life between Chicago and London as well as running houses in London, Italy and Switzerland. In a sense her journey's been rather less obvious, and deeper- personally deeper - than mine. I feel I'm more or less the same, yet Valerie's undergone this metamorphosis And I very much admire her for it. Her social ease is non-pareil. Her dinner parties can be filled with world-famous musicians yet there's always a deep thrum of simplicity about them. And since Georg's death there's been no let-up at all. It's been heartbreaking for her, I know. He's left such a huge gap. But she goes on organising things as brilliantly as before.

VALERIE SOLTI: It was 1957, 58, and we met in our first year at RADA, and even then Diana stood out from the crowd. She never manifested thc blind funk that the rest of us felt. Even straight out of school she looked right, her makeup was right, she had poise. She denies this of course. The great thing in those days was eye-ticks, and her eyeliner was always done very expertly. She had red nail varnish, and this marvellous, thick, naturally perfect auburn hair. Her voice was right. Everything was right. And she just seemed able to do it all. While we were forever slogging away at our lines, Diana would go out to a party and spend 30 seconds next day learning hers in the locker room, and in class it would come out perfectly.

It felt very special in those days to have got a place at RADA. Diana and I had a connection from the start because though she'd been born in India her parents lived in Leeds, and my parents lived in Leeds. We hadn't known of each other before but at some point in that first term we connected. There wasn't a lot of travelling back and forth during term-time because one couldn't afford the fare, but we'd go home together at the end of term. There used to be a carriage on the train with a sign saying "Ladies Only" and that made us laugh because we could never work out what it was meant to be for. We'd smoke on the train and I used to go and brush my teeth so my parents wouldn't know, but Diana didn't care. She'd quite happily go home reeking.

After the first year Diana moved into a shared flat in Hampstead where there seemed to be an awful lot of parties and although I had digs on the other side of London, hers was always the place you'd go after an evening out when it was too late to get home. There was a sort of coal chute you could crawl through to get in, and there would always be a sofa to sleep on, but it was all fairly innocent. Diana had various boyfriends but one's private life was one's own in those days, and sex wasn't a thing any of us discussed. In many ways it was a more respectful society, and certainly a lot safer and less threatening.

The big difference between young people then and now is that we didn't have any money. We went to lots of plays, but often stood at the back. And there wasn't a question of spending on clothes. Being well-groomed was what we aimed for. We wanted neat little hairdos, big skirts and stand- out petticoats which you had to starch in the bath. In class we'd wear our fathers' old shirts belted over tights with ballet shoes. This was long before anyone had leotards.

Sian Phillips and Glenda Jackson were also in our year. Sian was a bit older than the rest of us and had worked in the theatre already, so she seemed terrifically grown-up. But among us younger ones it was Diana who had star quality. That extraordinary rich voice was there from the start. And getting one's voice right was what we all worried about. It had to be on the breath, centred, not too far back in the throat, not too far forward in your nose. "Received pronunciation" didn't exist. You either spoke correctly or you didn't. If you had a few vowels that were not quite right, you worked at them.

At the end of two years we all dispersed. Diana's first job was in Chesterfield if I remember. I went to Reading rep and we rather lost touch. But only a few years later she turned up in the RSC playing Cordelia, which was the beginning of success for her. Then it wasn't until after my marriage that we met up again. Georg and Diana admired each other very much. Music isn't particularly her thing, but they admired each other's professionalism And they both had a strong desire to win at bridge. I remember vividly going to visit Diana when she was doing Medea in New York, and we took her back after the show to our hotel apartment and spent a very long evening playing bridge and eating soft-shell crabs which I bought from Eat.

In the last couple of years Diana's been wonderfully supportive of my work for Sadler's Wells, which has involved organising countless fund- raising events in aid of building the new theatre. And however demanding her own work has been she's always put herself out to turn up for us, unveiling plaques, lending her voice. As you might expect, she's an excellent public speaker, she's very cerebral. And that's what's always distinguished her as an actress. She's never joined the theatrical mainstream, she's an individual.

The new Sadler "s Wells Theatre opens on 12 October. To name a seat in the theatre call 0171 713 0754

Diana Rigg is in "Phedre" at the Albery, WC2 (0171 368 1740).

The playwri

TIM PERRY: I've known Magnus for about five years. I met him in early autumn. What it was, I'd been living in Manchester for a long time, and then I just went away for about a year. I went to Africa, got married in America, then came back to file copy and lived in Brixton for a couple of months.

I used to drink a lot in Brady's, a scruffy Irish bar in Brixton where there was always live music. Magnus was with a friend of his who was a poet and with his wife, and they were drinking Guinness. We just banged on about music for a long time. We are both anal retentive about the music we like, and like to argue it through: "I like this", "that's shit" and so on. He was going on about old-school rock, and he struck me as quite different to the norm: he has a juke box that only takes seven-inch records, and I felt like I was the first person to tell him about CDs.

I wasn't intending to live in London at all. At that time, before Brixton became the trendy place it is now, I just hung around with half a dozen people who were into music or writing. Magnus was doing his bus column for the Independent at the time. Brady's was a rough version of TV sitcom, Cheers, where everyone knows your name, and might push you over or pour beer over you. This was about the only place that was open until 2am at the weekends. It was only a couple of quid on the door and it was quite predictable that you'd run into Magnus over a weekend.

Before that, I'd been away for 18 months, travelling and writing. Back in London I was going to gigs every evening, enjoying a good life, and I think Magnus was intrigued by that. He started coming to gigs and stuff, always sneaking off at 1am. Then, on the mornings I was up, I would go round to his for a "rock breakfast": an egg, some toast, some pretty good coffee and some loud, loud music. We would listen to loads of bands no one has heard of. I have a very broad taste, I like Country music, and Magnus is into heavy rock. We meet somewhere in between.

The other unifying factor in the friendship is good Hunter S Thompson anecdotes. We've both read him, his drug crawls through America, and Brady's had that same feeling of decadence and depravity. Sometimes we talk about writing, but it's always more about kicking back with a drink: sarcastic asides rather than anything intellectual, chatting about ideas and experiences.

Conversation can get base, especially on his part. He talks shite like everyone else. He curses a lot. So do I, but he does it 30 decibels louder. I've accused him of being soft, especially when he was writing newspaper pieces. He gives people the benefit of the doubt, and I find him a bit gentle, so I'll take the piss out of him for that. But then he beat the crap out of someone one night when they were giving him too much hassle. He's not the kind of person you'd expect to do that.

I admire his energy. He's hyperactive. A lot of people don't understand why he's driving a bus, but you have to do something with those hours, so you might as well drive. He also has a great enthusiasm. That sounds very boyish, but there is an enthusiasm, an ability to achieve things. The way he wrote the novel was brilliant. Normally everyone is bugging you and telling you about their novel, but he just got on with it. He had an idea, some confidence, and did it with minimal fuss. He never whinges.

I suppose, despite idiosyncracies, you accept someone, and know they're not going to change. There are niggling things that piss you off, like Magnus never staying out longer because he's got to get back to drive his bus, but at the end of the day, it's about acceptance. We both care about music and understand other people's opinions. There's always so much to talk about and disagree about. He'll get fired up about something that entirely washes over me, and that will start something up.

But it all comes down to Brady's bar. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a creative circle, but people's hunches and hopes are paying off for them now, particularly for Magnus.

MAGNUS MILLS: We met in autumn 1994, just after the clocks had gone back. I had started going in this pub in Brixton called Brady's, by the railway line which actually goes through the roof, because the pub is integral with the railway arch. It's a down-at-heel Irish bar, and there was sometimes a band. It's the kind of place where you make a few friends fairly quickly. Everyone lives on top of each other there, and someone pointed out Tim and said: "He's a rock writer."

We kept bumping into each other in pubs, because at that time there was always music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and you could always get a drink after hours. We had a whole host of mutual friends, but I was usually the first to go home. But soon, if he got a double ticket for something, like The Dandy Warhols, and he thought I would be interested, then he would ask me to go along. The big thing I pull on him is "Have you ever heard of so and so?"

The trouble was that he scorned - and still scorns - British bands. We argued a lot about music. He came up with a lot of unheard-of American bands, The Archers of Loaf, Built to Spill, and his latest rave Slobberbone. I've actually been to see the last two bands with him. I thought, here's a guy who's even more obsessed with music than I am. I spend hours every day listening to music I like, but he has a burning mission to tell the world about "alternative Country", "trailer trash", not the established acts. And that's his aim, to find out about all these weird bands in Nashville or Texas. But as soon as a band is big, like Nirvana became, he drops them.

I've been married for 16 years, and he's very definitely a single man, so everything about us is different. We have very different lifestyles, but we get on well together when we drink. I sometimes get up at 5am, which he can't hack because normally he still hasn't gone to bed. I'm amazed at the amount of drink he can put away. He can have a 48-hour binge without any sleep. I don't need much sleep, but I do need some. He smokes and drinks like Hunter S Thompson, but actually looks fairly healthy for a 37-year-old.

Everyone knows he puts the fags away, but he doesn't like me going on about it. It's hard to imagine him not drinking and smoking. I say to him, "Why don't you get a bike?"You see, he used to be a racing cyclist. But I doubt he ever will. And he hates the buses even more than I do. He hates them because he has to catch them.

His enthusiasm rubs off quite a lot. I'll never ring him up without hearing music in the background. When we're together, it's often quite childish, like boys arguing about rock and roll. Occasionally we'll go and look something up in the Guinness Book of Singles, and he'll give you the background on everything. I go back further than him in my musical tastes, because I'm older. I like the Kinks or the Beatles. But then he thinks the Byrds are better than the Beatles anyway, and he can't stand "Strawberry Fields" or "Waterloo Sunset", which are my all-time favourite tracks. But at least he does have a sincerity, an integrity, about music, which I respect.

There are things which get under your skin. Like he's got two phone lines, and after I've been on the phone for 10 minutes, he'll always cut me off and say, "I've got a call coming in from the States, let me call you back." At least now, with my book, I'm taking as many calls as he does.

But really, there's nothing I dislike about him, nothing. We don't have arguments. For me, friends have just got to be good company when you're out with them. I don't think I have any friends who don't drink. And friends pay me attention, and I like that. You can tell after a certain time if the friendship is right, you know: not see them for a couple of months, and then when you do it's the same as yesterday. We have a lot of mutual friends, and we gossip about them, take the piss.

We knock around with each other less now, because I don't have time to see him, what with book-signings and festivals and readings. We used to be out every Friday and Saturday night, what we affectionately call "the old days". Brady's is less our hang-out now, as my wife prefers another pub. But then, the friendship has changed, it's just become more established.

When you know something like that is not going to end, but to last, there's less panic involved. When you meet someone new, you phone them a lot more often; but when it's established you don't necessarily need to. It really depends on what's happening because Tim has a busy schedule of his own.

When we do meet, it's inevitably based around a gig. I go for drinks with lots of other mates because they're nearer, it's more convenient; but where music's involved, it's always with Tim.

Magnus Mills's novel, 'The Restraint of Beasts', is published by Flamingo. The Booker Prize judging takes place on Tuesday.