Arthur Smith: 'Malcolm Bradbury marked my play: 'B minus. Stick to comedy'

From a speech by the writer and comedian, given at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich

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God, it's very exciting to be back. I never thought I'd get to speak in Lecture Theatre 1. I sat here and watched the poet Stephen Spender and I once saw A J Ayer, the founder of logical positivism here. There was a whiteboard and he was scrawling all over it and it was just a load of squiggles and it meant nothing at all - he was a very peculiar man.

When I arrived in 1973 we were kind of post-hippy pre-punk, my generation. I was kind of fearless, in a way, and a terrible show-off. It was the first time I had come across all sorts of ideas and it was also the first time I had come across anyone from public school. I mean, I met a posh woman who had a car and an overdraft.

I studied Comparative Literature. The idea that you could compare T S Elliott with Dante, that you could go across cultures, across languages, was really exciting to me. As part of my dissertation I wrote a play during my year in Paris. It was a terrible play, looking back on it, but it was a play.

I enjoyed the academic side of it but I also got drunk and did wacky things. I remember I had a sherry party in the laundrette on my 19th birthday. The following year, somewhat in homage to John Lennon, I took my bed and placed it in the square out there and lay in it. And I was gradually joined by about 20 or 30 other students, all lying in their beds in the middle of the square in celebration of my birthday. I wasn't a shy student.

When I arrived at UEA I worshiped Malcolm Bradbury, who had founded UEA's creative writing programme. He was part of the reason I came here and this play I had written in Paris was given to Malcolm to mark. He had seen me doing some comedy show that was quite funny and he wrote on my play: "B minus. Stick to comedy."

A few years before his retirement, I travelled to Indiana with Malcolm. He had been a young lecturer there not long after the war and I was privileged to spend three days with him as his papers were being taken into the university library.

What a wise man, what a funny man, what a gifted man, what an inspiration to me.

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