Alan Bennett: 'Stibbe got me wrong'

Alan Bennett: 'Stibbe got me wrong'

Writer Alan Bennett has claimed Nina Stibbe "misremembered" him in Love, Nina (Viking), her account of life as a nanny to London Review of Books editor Mary-Kay Wilmers in London in the 1980s.

The book, currently being read on BBC Radio 4 as its "Book of the Week", is made up of letters written by the young Nina Stibbe to her sister Victoria. The letters describe daily life with the Wilmers family and their friends and neighbours, who included Bennett alongside director Jonathan Miller, biographer Claire Tomalin and her husband, playwright Michael Frayn.
Twenty-year-old Stibbe, who initially had the impression that Bennett was famous because he used to be in "Coronation Street", recounts multiple episodes involving the author, including one where he gallantly came over to the house in the early hours, umbrella in hand, to chase off a burglar she had imagined was lurking downstairs.
But in the latest issue of Bennett's annual diary, published in the London Review of Books, the writer said that when he read a proof copy of Stibbe's novel in the summer, he found it "fresh and droll" but saw himself wrongly presented as "solid, dependable and dull". He was "a dismal Jimmy" credited with abilities at mending bicycles and electrical appliances which he doesn't possess, Bennett claimed.
In the LRB piece he also said he had no memory of being offered turkey mince - an ingredient favoured by Wilmers and the subject of much discussion in Stibbe's book.
"None of this I mind much, though it is painful to be even so lightheartedly misremembered," the playwright observed, concluding: "Such is art."