I never thought of myself as an outsider. Until now

It was only when I read a profile of that fire-breathing radical of the theatre, Steven Berkoff, that I began to understand


The two-week book festival is under way in Edinburgh.

Every day, a leafy square in the city is full of marquees, with authors reading, discussing their creative processes and answering questions from eager, bookish audiences. I am not one of those authors this year but, since I have a show on the Fringe for the month – narrated by a lonely and seriously blocked author, coincidentally – I sometimes hang around the square, attending the odd event.

It feels rather as if a new literary crowd is in town, and that my face doesn’t quite fit any more, an impression confirmed when two students handing out flyers for my show outside the square were told to move on by book festival bouncers. At one point, I met a writer friend, someone I had not seen for a while, at a signing session in the bookshop. He later tweeted that had been “pounced up by a heavily disguised and uninvited @TerenceBlacker”.

It seemed a little harsh. The heavy disguise was a hat and I had only been saying hello, but  his remark confirmed the odd sensation I had of becoming an outsider. It is not something I have experienced since first trying to make my way as a writer in a literary world that was (and still is) inward-looking and occasionally snobbish.

I mentioned my experience online to the great crime writer Val McDermid. “I always felt like an outsider,” she replied.

Now this is odd. One would think that no one could feel more secure, more on the inside of things, than this deservedly popular Scottish author at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

It was only when I read a profile of that fire-breathing radical of the theatre, Steven Berkoff, that I began to understand. The actor, writer and director is drawing on experiences from a glorious career for a show on the Fringe called An Actor’s Lament. Every day he is happily shouting and strutting his way about the stage before sell-out audiences. Yet it turns out that he is an outsider, too. He relishes the role, he told a journalist in a profile this week. “It’s almost a privilege,” he said. “It means you don’t speak in the same tongue as the mass. The outsider really is the insider because he is one who penetrates to the core.”

It is certainly a long way from the outsider, as portrayed by the writer Colin Wilson in 1956 when he was living rough on Hampstead Heath and working on his book in the British Library. A huge bestseller, freighted with portentous musings about Hesse, Dostoevsky and Sartre, Wilson’s The Outsider caught on because both the book and its author spoke to bookish, frustrated young men who thought the world misunderstood them.

Unfortunately, Wilson became over-excited by all this, rattled out too many books, mostly about sex, and at one point outed himself as a panty-fetishist – a boast which, even for an outsider, was considered to be over-sharing.

Being on the outside is different today. Steven Berkoff very obviously loves causing a fuss by being rude about Twitter, the BBC or the establishment. Promoting his play, he said during a radio interview that most of what the BBC produced was “garbage”. He was also firmly against “the general corruption that is going on”.

There was, gratifyingly, a row. Berkoff received more than 1,000 emails. Every singe one, he revealed in his interview, had agreed with him and had congratulated him on his courage.

Here is a perfect example of the 21st-century outsider. No sleeping in ditches or panty-fetishism for him. Instead, he pronounces at maximum volume a few bold, populist generalisations.

There is altogether too much communication, says Steven Berkoff. “It is like exposing yourself on a continuous basis. It’s like flashing.”

Who could possibly disagree with that?

Terence Blacker’s ‘My Village and Other Aliens’ is on daily at 5.30pm at the Zoo Southside on the Edinburgh Fringe until 26 August

Is it a cry for help, Jeremy?

Even at this time of the year, one can learn something new and interesting from the headline stories. Who knew, for example, that men liked to grow beards on their holidays, sometimes prolonging that holiday feeling by not shaving for days, or even weeks, after they return to work?

The breaking news about Jeremy Paxman’s facial hair is not only a perfect August story, combining themes of celebrity, looks, ageing and the BBC, but also raises the important question as to why men grow these things in the first place.

One psychologist has linked beardiness to dominance and aggression, but logic would surely suggest the opposite. A man’s need for a big, hairy face is more likely to be caused by a fear that his powers are on the wane. The bearded man is trying to make himself look bigger and more imposing than he is.

What Paxman has done to his face may be less a holiday folly than a cry for help.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower