Talking Heads, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Alan Bennett sealed his reputation as the master of observation with this series of 12 groundbreaking monologues, originally filmed for BBC Television.

At once darkly comic, tragically poignant and wonderfully uplifting, Talking Heads is widely regarded as a modern classic.

This edition, which contains the complete collection of Talking Heads, as well as his earlier monologue, A Woman of No Importance, is a celebration of Alan Bennett's finest work.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • ISBN: 9781846072598

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

The quality of Bennet's writing is indisputable. There are phrases in these monologues that perfectly illumine some small element of daily life and there are pauses and juxtapositions that even on the page have power beyond the sum of their parts. Reading drama is always difficult; to some extent the reader imposes their own pace and voice onto the pieces, and these pieces certainly have more impact when coming from the actors and actresses that Bennet chose for each of the roles. However, as Bennet says in his introduction to the first series "to watch a monologue on the screen is closer to reading a short story than watching a play", and these definitely work as read pieces. There are moments of gorgeous insight in this collection. Bennet writes convincingly from the point of view of a child molester who strains to keep away from the behaviours of his past, but succumbs to his belief that his victims are willing, eager even. Among the more sympathetic characters are Susan the vicar's wife and Rosemary the murderer's next door neighbour who both find tender, reciprocal love with people who are the very antithesis to their controlling husbands, but as Bennet never fully lets his characters embrace freedom they are, like so many others, brought back into check, and forced to return to reality.There are, obviously, downsides to reading a collection of monologues. The intensity of reading a series of pieces of the same length, form and style over and over can leave the reader looking for a break or shift in tone. Bennet's voices are also slightly relentless, what starts as a refreshingly quiet, modest middle England voice soon appears to swamp all differences in the characters. The stories are diverse, but any one of Bennet's ladies could have been the protagonist of any of the pieces. This becomes more and more obvious when the same turns of phrases, or viewpoints are shared out among the players - even Bennet recognises that every dog in the book is called Tina. It would be refreshing to see him breaking the mould, to see his deft observation applied to a new set of voices. The other inconvenience of reading the whole series all together is that Bennet's twist in the tale very quickly appears clumsy and obvious. Even if the shock is artfully concealed, the reader knows it is coming from the off.For all this, Talking Heads is a classic contribution to British drama, and hasn't lost its ability to raise a laugh or to tug the heartstrings. The final piece 'Waiting for the Telegram' is perhaps one of the most esoteric of the lot and the one that least obviously clunks the reader with The Shocking Facts. The delicate friendship between two people on entirely separate ends of the social spectrum, each with their own thoughts weighing down on them is at once beautiful and unutterably sad.A book to keep on the bedside table and enjoy gradually, in small doses, like a good box of chocolates.

Review by

Really excellent.  Alan Bennett writes just the most amazing text. This is a collection of monologues, two sets of 6 and an individual that were written and them filmed by the BBC. The text tells you something about the backgrounds the person is to be filmed against, and a line or two about who they are. It also gives the person who gave the performance. Some of them I can remember having seen, but not all. They are not cheery. They are mostly melancholy, they are usually dark and they deal with the grubby side of life. They have flashes of humour, and some hints of hope, but the tone is not upbeat. But there is so much going on in here. In several stories, the person has suspicions about their partner, but they're never confirmed. In other instances the person ends up being incarcerated, and you are left with a conflict between what they've done and the person conjured up in front of you. However it is the last one in the collection that is the jewel in the collection. It tugs right at the heart strings and ties them in knots. If you ever get the chance to read the collection, or to see the filmed results, grasp it with both hands. This is a man at the top of his game and it manages to be both breathtakingly brilliant, and appears as easy as pie. I bet it isn't.

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