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New Alan Bennett Talking Heads book for this autumn

Faber and Profile Books are delighted to announce the joint acquisition of two new Alan Bennett Talking Heads monologues. These new additions to the acclaimed and much-loved series will be published together as Two Besides, first as an ebook on 8 July and then in a beautiful hardback edition on 15 October.

Each, in its way, is a devastating portrait of grief. In An Ordinary Woman, a mother suffers the inevitable consequences when she makes life intolerable for herself and her family by falling for her own flesh and blood, while The Shrine tells the story behind a makeshift roadside shrine, introducing us to Lorna, bearing witness in her high-vis jacket, the bereft partner of a dedicated biker with a surprising private life.

The book also contains a substantial preface by director and long-time collaborator Nicholas Hytner and an introduction to each monologue by the author.

The original collection of Bennett’s darkly comic monologues has won countless fans over the decades. Writer David Sedaris described them as ‘pretty much the best thing ever’, a collection he gives to friends more than any other. These two new stories will be an unexpected delight for old fans and will create a generation of new ones.

They will be broadcast first on BBC One and then available on iPlayer alongside ten of the original monologues, all performed by new actors. This series was filmed at Elstree Studios according to strict social distancing guidelines during lockdown. The new Talking Heads episodes star Jodie Comer, Monica Dolan, Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig, Sarah Lancashire, Lesley Manville, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake, Rochenda Sandall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton and Harriet Walter. The first two episodes will air on 23 June and all will be available on iPlayer from that date.

The TV series became an instant classic when first broadcast in 1988, and a second acclaimed season aired in 1998. They featured what are now considered iconic performances from Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Patricia Routledge and Bennett himself. Hytner referred to them as ‘among the masterworks of one of the very greatest writers in TV, film and theatre history’.

Alan Bennett said: ‘Given the opportunity to revisit the characters from Talking Heads I’ve added a couple more, both of them ordinary women whom life takes by surprise. They just about end up on top and go on, but without quite knowing how. Still, they’re in good company, and at least they’ve made it into print.’

Dinah Wood, editorial director for drama at Faber and associate producer for London Theatre Company on Talking Heads, commented: ‘What could be a more thrilling lockdown delivery than two new Talking Heads from Alan Bennett? Masterpieces, both, like the previous and unforgettable dozen, these monologues are timeless in their concerns – love, death, sex, desire, loneliness, the ultimate unknowability of other people – but have a resonance now, as our sense of isolation is amplified. Only Alan could come up with the title Two Besides; they are absolutely to the point.’

Rebecca Gray, commissioning editor at Profile, commented: ‘An early review says Alan Bennett still has the sharpest pen in England, which feels spot on for me. It’s always a joy when Alan writes something new, and just now it’s more of a treat than ever. Never has a man written women so well! We love working with Alan, and it’s great fun to team up with our friends at Faber too. Something for us as publishers to look forward to as much as his many readers. These may be called Two Besides but for us they’re Two Most Wanted.’