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Poetry and seduction

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Meeting a 'pansy'
Diana Athill Writer
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I don't think I did know about it. I knew faintly about it. But the great discovery was, during my first term, Tony came to see me and took me out. We had a lovely, wonderful, wonderful… I mean, it was when I began to enjoy Oxford. We went to a very, very nice pub, which was his favourite pub, because the dear old woman who ran it adored him and we had a wonderful evening there. And then we went on to see a friend of his, who was gay. And Tony said, 'Well, you see, he's gay'. You wouldn't say 'gay' in those days. What would you say… A pansy, I think. But a splendid fellow, a splendid fellow all the same. So we went to see him, and he was in bed with a bad cold. And so we went up to his bedroom and Tony and I got into bed with him, and we drank whisky together, all three together and that was marvellous. I felt so sophisticated. There I was, lying in bed beside a pansy, drinking whisky. And he was a terribly nice man, and very funny. And so that was a big step forward in what I knew about life.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Oxford University

Duration: 1 minute, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008