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School Play: a satire on all things English


Why a bit of self-deprecation is a good thing
Frederic Raphael Writer
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But Harold did something which I've never managed to do: he was never self-deprecating. He never pretended for one second that he had read books which weren't worth reading. And I edited a book in the 1970s to try and raise a bit of money for public lending right so that we actually got some money back from books being lent in public libraries which in those days happened quite a bit. And I asked a number of famous writers, including Harold and Arthur Koestler and Iris Murdoch and who all else, to tell me what books they would be made of if, so to speak, they were a stack of books. And some people answered one thing and some people answered another. And Maurice Cranston said that he had been totally besotted with Racine when he was young. And there were... there were sort of interesting and uninteresting contributions.

And Harold Pinter had, of course, to be Pinteresque because that's what Harold Pinter had to be. And he began his very short, terse account of what he would be if he were a library by saying, 'In my teens, I read Jules Laforgue'. Now Harold Pinter was brought up, as far as I know, if not in the East End, certainly in some not greatly favoured part of London. And the idea that Harold Pinter in his 20s read Jules Laforgue is, to say the least, very unlikely. Or, as Jules Laforgue might say, et ta soeur, mon vieux– what a load of bollocks.

[Q] In his teens not his 20s.

What? In his teens he read Jules Laforgue. I don't think Jules Leforgue was translated in Harold Pinter's teens. So he not only apparently read Jules Laforgue to the exclusion of, whether it was Biggles or anything else that people might read in their teens, he also read it in French. How could I possibly doubt that this was true? I don't doubt it's true. But get off.

Of course, the fact that Harold couldn't take himself anything but extremely seriously is not the only reason that he is renowned, but it don't half help. I don't think TS Eliot spent a lot of time pretending that he was actually a bit of a clown, which he in some ways quite definitely was and rather a displeasing one at that, actually. Funny, all that. Willie Maugham, however, who was a bit of an outsider, was perfectly capable of being somewhat self-mocking and I'm afraid that I caught some of that from him and I'm sure it's done me no good. But there we are.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Harold Pinter, Jules Laforgue

Duration: 2 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014