Magazine article The Spectator

Highly Recommended by the Author Himself

Magazine article The Spectator

Highly Recommended by the Author Himself

Article excerpt

DIARIES, 1969-1977

by Peter Nichols

Nick Hern Books, 25, pp. 440

Peter Nichols and Stephen Sondheim once arrived in London terribly jet-lagged from New York. They decided to go to the theatre, fell instantly asleep, and left at the interval, telling everyone within earshot what a very boring play it was. As the play was mine, I've been looking for revenge ever since.

Unfortunately I've always found Peter's plays far too good to walk out of, and his autobiography was compelling reading. So I seized eagerly on these diaries, hoping at last to find the opportunity to humiliate him as publicly as he once humiliated me. No such luck. They're as funny and crotchety as having Peter in the room himself.

As a matter of fact we did have him in the room last weekend, and, devoted to his own work as he is, he found the diaries unputdownable. Laughing at his own jokes, scowling over old betrayals, blaming his wife Thelma for her pusillanimity in making him cut out the most offensive passages, he entertained himself as much as he entertained us. The man is yawn-proof, damn it.

Diaries covers the years 1969-77, carrying on from where Feeling You're Behind ended with the success of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. It was, though Peter would be the last to admit it, a decade of almost unbroken success. As well as The National Health, Forget-Me-Not-Lane, and Chez Nous, there were television plays like The Gorge and Hearts and Flowers, films of his stage plays, and many foreign productions. As the volume ends Privates on Parade is about to appear. The Freeway was the only flop in this string of hits, and it should have been a period of great personal satisfaction, but of course, Peter being Peter, it was one of grumbles, grouches and grizzles.

There was always someone, usually Tom Stoppard, whose plays were better reviewed or ran longer. There was always at least one critic, usually Harold Hobson, who refused to give Peter his due. There was always, too, his own puritanical sense that he was wasting his time on trivial entertainments when he should have been changing the world with great masterpieces. Above all there was his unappeasable sense of grievance that other people were getting more from the sexual revolution than he was.

If the long-suffering Thelma isn't feeling like it at the exact moment he is, he. starts referring to her coldly as `she' and thinking about divorce. …

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