National Trust bites back at Alan Bennett

Clash of national treasures as volunteers object to playwright's jibes

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."

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker
TV
Life and Style
Instagram daredevils get thousands of followers
techMeet the daredevil photographers redefining urban exploration with death-defying stunts
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'
TVDaughter says contestant was manipulated 'to boost ratings'
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking EY...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: NEWLY QUALIFIED TEACHER WE CAN HELP ...

Lead FE Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, jQuery, Knockout)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead FE Softwa...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed for Se...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor