I have in front of me a copy of the first book you wrote. It is called The Glittering Coffin and was published in 1960, when you were 24. I bought it because the News Chronicle (takes you back, eh?) said it was the most important and truthful book to have been written about Fifties Britain.
You did not like it - Fifties Britain, I mean. Not many people our age did. Just before the book was published (delayed by a printing strike), the Conservatives won their third general election on the trot. You managed to squeeze in a hastily added postscript to Labour's defeat. It serves as an equally apposite commentary on the election of 1992.
Labour lost 'because the public was at no stage presented with a consistent, comprehensive and genuine alternative to the kind of government they were beginning to accept', you wrote. 'They were given no incentive to think about the kind of society in which they lived, no explanation of why they should opt for change.'
You railed against the inequality of the education system and the growth of 'the casino society', dominated by advertising and its slogans. 'It is impossible to be young in a dead land,' you wrote. 'There seems, hideously, no room for any kind of tomorrow that is not a slicker but more stifling extension of the present.'
You said you wrote the book because you wanted in later life to be reminded of what you felt then. 'I trust it will prove to be too vigorous to allow me the usual gracious, and always so damnably logical, shuffle away from the demands of belief and commitment.'
Well, it worked. Here you are, 34 years later, your belief and commitment uncompromised. In 1960 your ambition was to be a Labour MP. Instead, you defied a crippling disease and became our finest television playwright. In the plays - technically marvellous as well as moving and illuminating - it is never possible to mistake your distinctive voice, nor your loyalty to the beliefs you expressed all those years ago.
It has not been easy. For your pains, you have been the butt of smart jokes in Private Eye, because the easiest way to deal with passion and fervour is to mock them. Another way is to suppress them, and you have engaged in constant wars with the censors and the censorious, who do not share your conviction that the frank and honest portrayal of human emotion is the best way of achieving some kind of understanding of it. You have not trimmed for the sake of a quiet life.
If you do leave us before your time, the loss will be ours. You will die, as you wished, without losing your youthful spark. You did not let the bastards grind you down.
Carry on fighting,Reuse content