One of the favourite fantasy plots of a writer is, a character's told you've got three months to live . . . which is what I was told . . . who would you kill? I call my cancer - the main one, the pancreas one - I call it Rupert, so I can get close to it, because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time - in fact, I've got too much writing to do and I haven't got the energy - but I would shoot the bugger if I could. There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press, and the pollution of the British press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it's an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.
I knew for sure on St Valentine's Day, like a little gift, a little kiss from somebody or something. I had a lot of pain before then, and there was a quite accidental sort of misdiagnosis of the condition in London, an assumption being made that initially it was an ulcer or a spastic colon, that sort of thing. In December and January in particular I was trying to control what I now realise was the pain of cancer with Panadol, which is ludicrous, so in a way it was almost a relief to find out what it was: cancer of the pancreas with secondary cancers already in the liver, and the knowledge that it can't be treated. Neither chemotherapy nor surgery is appropriate, it's just simply analgesic care until you know, Goodnight Vienna, as they say in football.
I've been working since then, flat out, at strange hours because I'm done in the evenings, because, I suppose, of the morphine. Also the pain is very energy sapping, but I do find that I can be at my desk at five o'clock in the morning, and I'm keeping to a schedule of pages, and I will and do meet that schedule every day. Obviously, I had to attend to my affairs as well. I remember reading that phrase when I was a kid, that he had time to attend to his affairs.
My Forest of Dean childhood . . . it is a strange and beautiful place, with a people who were as warm as anywhere else, but they seemed warmer to me, and the accent is always so strong it's almost like a dialect. Up the hill, usually on a Sunday, sometimes three times to Salem Chapel and those little floppy, orange-covered hymn books, sacred songs and solos, those numbers that would be slotted up on the board and those choruses like . . . it's funny, I can think of the number before I can think of the chorus, I can see it as clear as though it were written in front of me on the slat - 787 - hymn number 787. 'Will there be, will there be any stars, any stars, in my crown when the evening sun goes down, when I wake with the blessed in the mansion of rest, will there be any stars in my crown?'.
And of course, it makes me laugh, and yet it tugs at me, and I see it, I see those little kids' faces singing 'Will there be any stars in my . . . any star ' it's repeated, 'any stars, any stars in my crown?'. And countless numbers of such things, and for me of course the language of the New Testament in particular, but the Bible in general was actually as it is to a child I suppose even to a child brought up in Pinner or Wembley Park, it must be something similar but it was the Holy Land, you know. Cannock Ponds by the pit where Dad worked, I knew that was where Jesus walked on the water; I knew where the Valley of the Shadow of Death was, you know, that lane where the overhanging trees were. I was a coward, you know. At dusk I'd whistle, you know, going down that particular lane. It was wartime, we were poor. Dad was a coal miner, so he was not in the Army because it was a reserved occupation. They've all closed now, the deep mine pits in the Forest of Dean - there were five of them when I was a child, deep shaft pits, but they were pick and shovel pits as well, you know, bloody hard work, grinding shift work, grinding, grinding work, and there were no water closets and the tin bath brought in in front of the coal fire and so on, on the Friday night and all that . . . men walking home with their coal dirt on them.
The whole country at that time was politicised even children knew what the war was about. We British in general, English in particular I find the use of the word British harder and harder to use as time passes we English tend to deride ourselves far too easily; because we've lost so much confidence; because we lost so much of our own sense of identity which had been subsumed in this forced imperial identity which I also obviously hate, but we were, at that time, both a brave and a steadfast people and we shared an aim, a condition, a political aspiration if you like, which was shown in the 1945 general election. And then one of the great governments of British history - those five, six years of creating what is now being so brutally and wantonly and callously dismantled was actually a period to be proud of.
The first television programme I made was in 1960, a documentary about the Forest of Dean. My first television plays were in 1965, when I had this burst of energy, through illness, you know, when I reinvented myself, quite consciously. I was so out of it. I had lost my job, I had two small kids and a third on the way, and I wrote this television play and they liked it, thank God, and commissioned another, and I was given the space to grow into, and I gave my working life to it as a result, and I have stayed with television to such a large extent because of that. Whereas if I was starting now, where would I get that chance; who would cosset and look after me? Where is the single play? And the series? You can punch the buttons in the predictability you can call the shot numbers out in advance.
This formula-ridden television is because of sales, because they'll soon be able to tell you every five seconds who's switching off. The pressure upon creators, whether they're writers, directors, designers, actors, producers, whatever, that pressure will be there all the time until you maximise your audience at any given point, which is the very antithesis of discovering something you didn't know. It's the very antithesis of the kind of broadcasting on television which was such a glory in British life. (He has two works in progress: 'Karaoke', a play for the BBC, and 'Cold Lazarus', a play for Channel 4.)
My only regret is to die four pages too soon - if I can finish, then I'm quite happy to go. I don't mind, you know. I'm quite serene.
I'm not, I haven't had a single moment of terror since they told me. I know I'm going to die, whether it's in four weeks' time, five weeks' time, six weeks' time, it might be longer. I might make eight, nine, 10, who knows? The histology of it suggests that I should already be dead, but I know what's keeping me going - I would have left something that I am proud of.
I've written so much of it that I know; I've got the same feeling that I had with The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven, only even more so, and Blue Remembered Hills. I can now be arrogant and boastful and F-it to everything, I could go out with a fitting memorial.
Without Walls' was an LWT arts production.
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