Obituary: Eugene Ionesco

JOHN CALDER's very full obituary of Eugene Ionesco (29 March) does not actually mention one of the episodes of his career that not only made some stir at the time but also left its mark on Ionesco himself, writes Michael Cullis.

It was an altercation with certain British critics, notably Kenneth Tynan in the Observer, who berated Ionesco for his lack of 'message', meaning primarily political message, at any rate of the correct kind. This is recounted in his first book of memoirs, Notes et Contre-Notes (1962): and I more than once heard him on the subject. Indeed, when I left Paris to return to the Foreign Office, he gave me a set of his plays inscribed 'a M. Cullis, avec mon amitie pour lui, et pour toute l'Angleterre - exception l'Observer.'

It may be worth recording that his initial work, the 'anti-play' La Cantatrice Chauve has run for over 40 years (Paris's answer to The Mousetrap) at the little Theatre de la Huchette. Usually the place was packed, with people sitting on the floor. But on one occasion I and some friends were the sole audience - and were afterwards applauded by the actors on stage. There has been, incidentally, a treasured LP recording of the complete play, by the original cast under Nicolas Bataille, and with a companion volume strikingly illustrated to match the text. There is also a cassette of his playlet Le Leader, with music by Germaine Tailleferre (the female member of Les Six): a political enough 'message' one might have thought with its punch-line, in answer to a child who exclaims, Hans Andersen-wise, 'But the Leader has no head.' 'What does it matter, he has Genius.'

So in my view, however idiosyncratically, did our friend Eugene.