National Trust bites back at Alan Bennett
Clash of national treasures as volunteers object to playwright's jibes
Paul Gallagher is a reporter for the Independent and Independent on Sunday having joined the group in 2012. He has previously worked for the European Voice, Daily Mirror and the Observer and been based in Brussels, Belfast, Tokyo and London.
Sunday 04 November 2012
Two much loved national institutions – one charged with preserving treasured works, the other with creating them – squared up to each other last night: in the red corner, the National Trust, in the blue, author Alan Bennett.
The playwright criticised the charity last week when he revealed that the inspiration for People, his latest play at the National Theatre, emerged from his discomfort as a visitor after going to see one of the trust's historic properties.
In an essay for the London Review of Books, Bennett wrote: "Some plays seem to start with an itch, an irritation, something one can't solve or a feeling one can't locate. With People it was a sense of unease when going round a National Trust house and being required to buy into the role of reverential visitor."
He went on to describe his dislike of being fed information by room guides for whom he feels slightly sorry. "I have learnt not to show too much interest as this invariably fetches the guide over, wanting to share his or her expertise," Bennett added.
The Trust's army of volunteers, backed up by senior management, has hit back. One volunteer, who declined to be named, said: "I love Alan Bennett, but why visit a property and not want to know more about it? How odd."
Sarah Staniforth, director of museum and collections at the National Trust, said their 12,000 room guides were given appropriate training and did a "fantastic job".
She added: "I'd love to have a debate with Alan Bennett on this. He is not saying anything that we don't think about as well. My bread and butter is the way we interpret the houses, and the volunteers are encouraged to present the houses in the way we would like.
"Our most recent survey showed that 98 per cent of people said their visit was 'enjoyable' or 'really enjoyable'. There are some people who want to be left alone, and you have to be able to read the signals as there are many different types of visitor to our properties. We try really hard to get it right."
Initially sold out, further dates for People were announced on Friday as it extends its run into April next year. The play, starring Frances de la Tour, is set in a country house recently donated to the National Trust. The property is hired out as the set for a porn film, a scenario Bennett originally thought was implausible, until he says he read of a video guide at one stately home voiced by Jeffrey Archer.
Bennett wrote: "I imagine the Trust as entirely without inhibition, ready to exploit any aspect of the property's recent history to draw in the public and wholly unembarrassed by the seedy or the disreputable."
A spokesman for the trust said the Archer reference was not entirely correct. The disgraced former Tory chairman was one of four Disraeli fans, including Lady Lucinda Lambton, speaking on an introductory video discussing different aspects of the Victorian prime minister's life.
He added: "Without the goodwill and enthusiasm of our 67,000 volunteers in particular, we would not be able to open our houses to the public. We work hard to find new ways of making visits to our places enjoyable, and we won't always please everyone. But it is always interesting to hear the views of one national institution about another."
- 1 The scientist who takes 100 drugs a day so he can live to 150
- 2 The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
General Election 2015: Tories sack candidate who said she would never support 'the Jew' Ed Miliband
9/11: Iranian General accuses US of organising September 11 terror attacks
General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
Yazidi sex slaves undergoing surgery to 'restore virginity' after being raped by Isis militants
Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
£18000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is recruiting for ...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B software supplier, spe...
£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing SaaS (Softwar...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has arisen for an ex...