The Third Leader: Talking heads

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The Independent Online

Today, let us give thanks for Alan Bennett, on whom honours pour down like rain on the rest of us. Today, it's five top Broadway drama awards for The History Boys and a shortlisting for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction for Untold Stories. Soon, doubtless it will be the seven Tonys the play has also been nominated for, plus the SJ itself. And don't worry, he's already a Freeman of Leeds, done just the other week.

How is he feeling? Don't worry, he will tell us. But it's unlikely to be uncomplicated joy, as he's not at home to that. He has, after all, claimed to have been happy only retrospectively, mostly.

If you try, you will be able to summon up that flat dry delivery, the one that takes comfort in the familiarity of disappointment. That's a gift from something else we really should give thanks for, his Yorkshireness. And for the splendidly eccentric Yorkshireness with which he was brought up, and which he has exploited for his and our delight and illumination, following, beneath the sophistication of his form, the great northern comic tradition.

It's also that, and its tensions with the rest of his life, which gives him his edge, which sees him decline to decline in the cosy national treasury, and which would think summaries of this sort a bit thick.

So, while paying tribute to his wider accomplishment, let us stay in Yorkshire for a favourite story, of his mother encountering, unwittingly, TS Eliot, and her reaction when Bennett told her she'd met a Nobel Prize winner: "I'm not surprised. It was a beautiful overcoat." Marvellous. Thank you.