A very English playwright: The return of Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett stages his first play for years this month, at the National Theatre. Paul Taylor, who has met him many times, looks at how the butcher's son from Leeds became Britain's best loved playwright, and tries to unravel his complex personality

Wild Cooking, By Richard Mabey

Thirty-five years after his Food for Free, Mabey has produced an accompanying cookbook. The wait was worth it for such a literate and imaginative work.

Bennett and Gambon to form dream team

Alan Bennett, arguably Britain's greatest living playwright, is to team up with Michael Gambon, one of the best actors of a generation, in the National Theatre's new season.

Internal, Mercure Point Hotel, Edinburgh<br/>East 10th Street, Traverse, Edinburgh<br/>Sea Wall, Traverse, Edinburgh<br/>Susurrus, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh

Drama doesn't get more intimate (and scary) than an interactive speed-dating show where you are the innocent victim

35 Shots of Rum, Claire Denis, 100 mins, (12A)

This gentle French drama gets under your skin with a heady cocktail of intimacy and family ties

Britten, the boy wonder

Music the composer wrote as a child can now be heard for the first time. It shows a precocious genius, says Lynne Walker

Ron Mallone: Pacifist campaigner who founded the Fellowship Party

Ronald (known to his friends as “Ron”) Mallone, who recently died of leukaemia at the age of 92, was a committed and lifelong pacifist, Christian and socialist, who co-founded a political party and repeatedly contested both parliamentary and local elections between 1959 and 1997.

The Beggar's Opera, Royal Opera House, London

You could experience a momentary double-take walking into the Royal Opera's Linbury Studio Theatre – thinking you've taken a wrong turn into the main house, as a cross-section of the ornate balconies and familiar red curtains of the latter confronts you. John Gay's original The Beggar's Opera was so successful that it laid the foundations for the theatre that is now the Royal Opera House.

Britten The Beggar&rsquo;s Opera, Royal Opera/ Linbury Studio

You could experience a momentary double-take walking into the Royal Opera’s Linbury Studio Theatre and thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn into the main house.

Preview: Albert Herring, Glyndebourne Festival, Glyndebourne

A sterling cast for a vintage production

Punch and Judy, Young Vic, London<br/>Atalanta, Britten Theatre, London<br/>Acis and Galatea, Wilton's Music Hall, London

Mr and Mrs Punch and the Molotov cocktail: Britten was said to hate Birtwistle's violent opera, but, 40 years on, its wit and skill stand out. Just don't look for a moral centre

&#163;51m profit on sale of Boosey & Hawkes is music to HgCapital

The classical music publisher Boosey & Hawkes is the latest addition to the ABP pension fund's programme of direct investment in assets, rather than fare the volatility of the public markets.

BBC SO/Knussen, Barbican, London

Alban Berg was in poor shape, financially and bodily, when he accepted the commission for a violin concerto in 1935, and shattered to learn of the death of Alma Mahler's 18-year-old daughter, Manon, of whom he had been fond.

Punch And Judy, Royal Opera House: Linbury Studio, London

Still murderous after all these years. Harrison Birtwistle and Stephen Pruslin's Punch and Judy is 40 years old. Mr Punch and his unfortunate wife go back much further, of course, but this extraordinary work was perhaps the defining moment when the Theatre of Cruelty set its mark on opera. That moment occurred in Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, in June 1968, when even our most astute and receptive of music-theatre practitioners, Benjamin Britten, found it just too, too much. It is, of course – but then nightmares are, aren't they?

'Replace trite and trashy statues with trees'

Leading art figures condemn the profusion of public memorials, claiming the majority are sentimental and badly executed
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Mickey Rourke celebrates his victory against opponent Elliot Seymour
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Former ‘Daily Mirror’ editor Piers Morgan
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Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
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Actor Burt Reynolds last year
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Johnny Handle, Northumberland, Ted Relph, President of Lakeland Dialect Society, and Sid Calderbank, Lancashire, founder of the National Dialect Day
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Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

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Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

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Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game