Alan Bennett brings Ilkley Literature Festival to book

Festival director Rachel Feldberg at the Kings Hall, Ilkley. PIC: Simon Hulme
Festival director Rachel Feldberg at the Kings Hall, Ilkley. PIC: Simon Hulme
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IT IS the north’s oldest book event by far - but it could have been written off after the first chapter, when the star turn got into a fight with a vicar.

The poet WH Auden had been booked for the first Ilkley Literature Festival in 1973, alongside JB Priestley, Margaret Drabble and Fay Weldon.

But Auden, in ill health, clashed with the local church almost as soon as he arrived, arguing over which version of the bible he would use to read the lesson.

The festival, which begins its 2017 run this afternoon with one of Leeds’ favourite sons, Alan Bennett, would prove Auden’s last public appearance.

This year’s event runs for the next 17 days and includes such headliners as Richard Osman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Richard Dawkins and Jeremy Vine.

Bennett’s opening event, in the King’s Hall at 2.30pm, was sold out almost as soon as it was announced. But many of the other 237 readings, seminars and exhibitions rely on a “national portfolio organisation” subsidy from the Arts Council to find an audience.

“We don’t need the subsidy to programme someone like Alan Bennett,” said Rachel Feldberg, the festival’s director. “Once the word is out people are pounding on the door and telling us hard luck stories about why they should be first in the queue.

“But the subsidy is about helping bring to the attention of the public work that they might not otherwise know they’re going to enjoy. The truth is that if you want Alan Bennett, you’ll have to queue up for returns at 1.30pm on the day if we’ve got any.” But there are still plenty of other tickets.”