Video: Alan Bennett slams Leeds library closures

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AFTER Leeds-born playwright Alan Bennett’s riproaring performance, it’s no wonder Lawnswood School is planning to name its library in his honour.

The History Boys writer and former Lawnswood pupil spoke of his pride after the plans were unveiled – and then condemned the proposed closure of libraries nationwide.

Alan Bennett at Lawnswood School.

Alan Bennett at Lawnswood School.

The 76-year-old told the YEP: “Closing down libraries is child abuse. You’re preventing the development of children and that’s monstrous really.

“Some families are so poor they can’t afford computers, so the only way children can keep up with their fellows is with a library.

“When a child wants to learn, if you don’t help them, you’re damaging that child.”

Speaking of the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which provides grants to pupils aged 16 to 19 who want to stay on at school, he added: “If a child wants to stay at school everything should be done to help them and to make it more difficult just makes a mockery of all things the government seems in favour of. It’s sickening.”

Mr Bennett, who was born in Armley and studied at Lawnswood when it was the Leeds Modern School, watched two students, Emily Charles, 16, and Jade Dorsett, 15, tackle a scene from his Talking Heads monologues, before reading extracts from his diaries in front of a sell-out audience.

Entries which came up included one about the legendary Miss Shepherd, the inspiration behind his play The Lady In A Van; and an amusing clash of accents when encountering a ‘posh’ lady at a church on his way to the funeral of Sir Alec Guinness in 2000.

He also had the audience in stitches when telling a story about a rumour which had gone around his school that the formidable PE teacher, Mr King, had died.

When they all sat down to assembly, they saw Mr King still standing – but were told King George VI had died, which “wasn’t nearly as exciting.”

Answering questions from the audience, he spoke of the late Dame Thora Hird, who played bitter widow Doris in one of the Talking Heads episodes, A Cream Cracker Under The Settee.

He said: “I wrote Thora Hird’s part for her, mainly because she was the only person of that age who still had all her marbles. She was absolutely obsessed with the words of the story, she knew if she had said an “and” instead of a “but”, she was so accurate. She was an author’s dream.”

Lawnswood School, which entered special measures in 2009, now hopes Mr Bennett will return to visit the library, which is expected to be named in his honour in the near future.

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