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Taking Footlights to London


Ancient philosophy loses out to Lady at the Wheel
Frederic Raphael Writer
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So actually, I had a hell of a good time for the next year and the following year I was... the following year, it was my last year, we did... we did Lady at the Wheel and then we did the Footlights. And Leslie at that time wanted to have the Footlights go to London because the previous year Peter Firth had been president, had been offered a transfer to London which none of us knew about, but he was in the middle of a spiritual transformation which took him into the Church and high places like that, and he didn't want anything more to do with that. So that year they didn't go.

Leslie... when Leslie was president the following year, and I was on the committee after the others had been quietly pushed aside, he of course immediately made contact with the people who wanted to take the show to London the previous year, and they came down to see our show which was actually very, very good. I did a number about Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, and that was all fun. So the thing ended and Leslie had fixed for us to spend a week in Oxford trying out the revised show, and then we were going to have two weeks in London at the Phoenix Theatre. So suddenly, everything was kind of: okay.

There was only one small thing, of course, which was that what with the theatre and the Footlights and all the rest of it I did not do a great deal of work. Which didn't mean that philosophy was not important to me, it was very important. And it's very easy to skate over the bits which are a bit naive and all the rest of it. But I had the idea, which was not foolish, if naive, that philosophy of a certain kind could eliminate prejudice and in particular religious prejudice by demonstrating that certain propositions had no value and various other things of this kind. And I was very keen on it and was pretty good at it. I didn't have to do Spinoza and Hume and various other people because that was not my bag. I did Ancient Philosophy, Tony Becher did Modern Philosophy, because we both switched to Philosophy. And we went to Renford Bambrough for supervisions. I was good at it, but I didn't want to do a lot of reading and luckily in philosophy in those days, under John Wisdom who was the professor, he didn't believe in reading, he believed in doing it. Wittgenstein was often said not to have read a great deal of philosophy because in a sense we were advocates of the end of philosophy. Philosophy was not a means to reach the truth; science was the way the truth was mentioned, philosophy was the handmaiden of science and made sure that propositions fitted together in a properly articulated and logical fashion. At least, that was the story.

I loved it and I took it very seriously and I, of course, enjoyed all the private language of philosophy which included various kinds of hand gestures and tiltings of the head at things that people said for instance, when people said – well, somebody once said in my hearing, about something, 'It did cross my mind', he said, to which I replied, 'Well, it's not exactly an overnight trip is it?' Which wasn't particularly nice of me, but I can't resist that kind of stuff and, of course, it was very kind of Cambridge-philosophical because we all knew that minds didn't have spaces to cross, didn't we – or did we?

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: Cambridge Footlights, Leslie Bricusse, Peter Firth

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014