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Travelling to Toledo


Meeting William Somerset Maugham
Frederic Raphael Writer
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Maugham was a man, rightly or wrongly, and much more rightly than wrongly, I thought, was the model for being a writer. You took it seriously, you did your work, you made notes, you noticed things, you noticed things, all the time. And you wrote as simply and clearly as you could.

So, I went to see old Willie on the bus. 'You should come on a motor bicycle', he said, but I didn't have a motor bicycle, so I went on the bus and went to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and I was met by the second class moto and his secretary, Alan Searle, and I went to the Villa Mauresque, and I've written about this so I won't go on about it now, but he was extremely nice to me.

Willie, as you may or may not... people may or may not know, has a rather, I don't know what kind of reputation, erotic reputation for, you know, the way he treated young men when they went to the Villa Mauresque. Well, either I wasn't his type or he doesn't do that all the time. And he didn't, he was actually extremely nice and he gave me tea, although he offered me a cocktail, and he showed me his pictures, and he gave me advice about going to Spain. And when Alan Searle, his secretary about whom bad things have been said in a recent book by a woman called Selina Hastings, who consulted me but didn't give me any credit in her list of acknowledgments, she thinks Alan Searle was a bad man, well he was very nice to me. And Alan Searle said to him, 'How would he get about in Spain?' And Willie said, 'He will take the omnibus'. I've never heard anybody use the word omnibus from that day forward. Anyway, he said, 'But we must give him the name of that man in Madrid. He opens all the doors in Madrid. Give him that name, Alan, and they'll be good for him'. And he loved Spain, old Willie, so eventually he said, 'Shall we... would you like to see the pictures?' In those days, he hadn't yet sold all his pictures, he did that later when they began to steal things on the Riviera, he got very nervous. So he showed me the Monets and the Manets and all that stuff and then we went out into the hall and there was a Picasso and there was a big painting of a man sort of crouched down, and he said, 'Do you know who that picture is by?' Now, I looked at it and a voice in my head said, look at the drawing of a head it looks like Toulouse-Lautrec. But I stumbled, I said, no I don't actually. 'Ah', he said, 'there's only one person who has ever recognised who that was by and that's Kenneth Clarke. It's by Toulouse-Lautrec'. And I said, 'Yes, how nice, excellent – very untypical of him'. Yes, it's untypical. And off I went. That was my visit to Willie Maugham. Actually I had bridge in common with him, because he also played bridge, and I did later in my time organize some bridge games for him with good players in London. So I was able to repay his kindness.

And I went on writing my novel until the fermeture annuelle of the little hotel in Juan-les-Pins which came at the... towards the end of October, I suppose.

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: Toulouse-Lautrec, Cap-Ferrat, William Somerset Maugham, Alan Searle

Duration: 3 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 13 August 2014