John Walsh

Longtemps je me suis couche a Maida Vale ... I popped a head round the door of a west London recording studio last weekend and found myself in the middle of Proust's fictional village of Combray. The BBC Drama department was kicking off rehearsals of one of the year's big events: putting A La Recherche du Temps Perdu - or at least Harold Pinter's screenplay of the 12-volume masterpiece - on the radio.

It occurs to you, as you stand in the draughty doorway, watching Pinter and his 20-strong cast at the read-through, that it's a bloody big book to reduce to only a few weeks' drama. Then you learn the shocking truth: that they intend to zip through the whole thing in exactly two hours on New Years' Eve. As feats of editing go, this is like putting out the whole Ring cycle as a three-minute single. (It also occurs to you that dramatising a book via a screenplay is asking for trouble. In Pinter's treatment, originally written for Joseph Losey, the first five pages are all camera directions and no dialogue.)

What, I asked one of the production team, was the biggest problem transferring the great Marcel's exquisite sensibility to the ether?

"All the sex," came the reply. "We had to do lots of rustling."

Come again?

Sex on the radio, she explained, is a problematic business, because you have to imply so much through mere silences and tiny squeaks. Period-costume sex is easier because you can suggest that crinolines and pantaloons are being rudely adjusted all over the set. Hence the entire cast of A La Recherche were holding things called "practice skirts" to rustle whenever things were heating up. "It's the only time," said the Radio 4 lady, "you have to put on more clothes to make love convincingly."

One thing puzzled me. What about the scenes of Sapphic rapture between, say, Albertine and Andree? Did they have a different rulebook for lesbian sex on the radio?

"It's a grey area," said the Radio 4 lady. "We usually settle just for lots of giggling."

Since the TLS broke the news that TS Eliot's The Waste Land plagiarised an earlier work, Madison Cawein's Waste Land, I've been trying to summon the courage to ask Valerie Eliot, steely relict of the great man, what she thinks about it all. But since the whole point of Eliot's poem is that it's a ventriloquial collection (it was originally called He Do the Police in Different Voices) of fragments, allusions and quotations from centuries of literary history, it seems a bit academic to go on about just one of its sources. And frankly it would take nerves of steel to confront Mrs Eliot, a rich widow of formidable toughness at whose raised eyebrow strong men quake.

So I'll just pass on a story she told, the last time I saw her, about her late husband.

"Can you guess," she asked, "which was the fastest poem Tom ever wrote?"

No, we chorused, we couldn't.

"It was 'The Journey of the Magi'," she said triumphantly. "He came back from Mass, had a large gin and tonic and wrote the whole thing in eight minutes flat."

Now there's a literary scoop for you.

Nice to hear Melvyn Bragg back on ankle-biting form when greeting Peter York on Monday's Start the Week. He responded with crushing disdain to all York's amusing pronouncements about the importance of the Eighties, the changing Zeitgeist and all that palaver; and when the former style guru tried a last-minute recap of his arguments, he was greeted by an embarrassing silence, into which Bragg grated: "Well, if anyone can make anything out of all that, they're welcome to it." Oo-er, missus.

I wondered if York was keen to get his own back when launching the book- of-the-TV series at a champagne brekkie in the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday morning. We didn't have to wait long.

"I was recently interviewed," said York, "by a very eminent writer who claimed to be in denial about the Eighties. And I looked at his hand-made shoes, his Savile Row shirt, his immaculate suit and his dinkily spotted red hankie, and thought, 'Well, you've done all right out of the Eighties, mate.' "

Mate? Blimey, guv'nor. Is this any way for the godfather of the Sloane Rangers to comport himself?

John Mortimer's court wig, Evelyn Waugh's ear trumpet, Beatrix Potter's calling card and Vita Sackville-West's gardening book (1951) are among a hundred quasi-literary items up for grabs at the Almedingen Auction on Monday, proceeds to the Royal Society of Literature. Among all the association copies, first editions, revised manuscripts (PD James's working notes for Original Sin look like an unusually avant-garde bit of concrete poetry) and mutually appreciative fan letters, there's an item of pure poison.

It's from Alfred Knopf, head of the top-ranking American publisher, to one of his authors, Louis Golding, and it is toe-curlingly direct: "Now that we are about to publish The Prince or Somebody, I think that in fairness to myself and you, I ought to tell you that I think it is a disgracefully bad book ... I want this opinion to be a matter of record before the book comes out, because, of course, the mere fact that I am ashamed of you for having written this book and offered it for publication does not necessarily mean that the public won't buy it ... We would not want, under any circumstances, to go on with you here or in London, for you have completely destroyed our belief in you ..."

Mr Golding's reply is not recorded. But anyone with an ounce of self- respect would surely have emigrated to the Sudan the next day.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit