Ayckbourn Talks: Inheritance Tracks (2020)

This page contains a transcription of Alan Ayckbourn on the popular BBC Radio 4 Inheritancer Tracks on 13 June 2020. Inheritance Tracks asks the interviewee to name two significant pieces of music - an inherited track and a track they would pass on; the interview about the choices takes place over the chosen music.

Inherited Track: Schubert’s Unfinished
The first movement of Schubert’s unfinished symphony is my choice and it was the very piece of music I ever heard - classical music anyway. When I was very young, my mother used to take me off to London; we lived in Sussex at the time and we were a single parent family. She was a writer for women’s magazines, so we’d go first to Fleet Street and then we’d get on the train to go home. It was always Victoria Station and my mother’s time-keeping was appalling, so we were always certain to just miss a train and the only way you could pass the time was to go into one of these news cinemas. Generally, it was an undiluted diet of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse cartoons but, suddenly, on the screen came up Unfinished Symphony and I was just captivated.

I loved the music. I just loved the dynamic of all those musicians playing together at once and I think it probably inspired the theatrical side of me and that led me, almost inevitably, to explore classical music. I’ve been hooked ever since.

My father was a classical musician, he was actually the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra at one point, just before the war. I never knew him very well personally. I didn’t get to know him until I was 11 or 12 when I went to visit him, by then he was married and living in Norfolk. So that whole chunk of my life, I inherited genetically rather than personally from him. My mother, I think, was an orchestra groupie and she followed it around. But I think she was not tremendously musical, but my father was the musical one.

I used to be taken around by my mum. I viewed myself, in retrospect, as being an open recording machine. It’s a great warning for people not to talk in front of children because I listened to her conversations and she had these wonderful quite anti-male conversation with her girlfriends, because they had all been jilted or abandoned by men in their lives. I listened to this and I think a lot of it went in subliminally and - years later - somebody asked, how do you know so much about women? I said, probably just from listening to them. So I think that’s probably how I started to play write.

My mother was proud of me - I think she was - she said I would always scowl at her as she began bragging. She then became a sort of counter-mother saying, ‘oh that was terrible, oh dear, no, that’s not a very good one.’ But I knew she was actually saying, ‘I’m very proud of you.’

Inheritance Track: Handel’s Organ Concerto No.12 in B Flat, op7 no.6 Lentement
The track I’d love to hand down is a track from one of Handel’s organ concertos, Lentement. That is a piece of pure perfection. Handel has this amazing ability to write the most beautiful tunes and one of my great regrets is not having composed. If I could juggle with tones, mathematically and musically, in the way that people like Handel and Bach, of course, and Vivaldi before him, then I would really die a happy man, because this piece is so delicate. And so plaintive really. It’s like a love song.

Heather and I, we acted together years ago and this coming together again for
Anno Domino is quite an event for us! A sort of reunion after 60 years, I think. She gave up her acting career really to manage my career. She’s been amazing. She has a room at the top of our house and I’m at the bottom of the house and we just meet occasionally for a glass of wine at the end of the day! Maybe a few nibbles!

My youngest son is a playwright and he writes quite regularly for Lewes Little Theatre - or he did until, of course, this wretched virus. My eldest son started in theatre. They both were sort of reluctant to follow in my footsteps because I cast a rather long shadow, I think. But they plucked up courage in their 40s and they’re doing pretty well now. They never ask for advice! It might be just competitive, I think they fear that I could start laying down the law rather quickly! And they’d never ask for it.

My favourite room in my house is my study. It’s filled with computers. I had a stroke in 2006 and although I was greatly incapacitated, my two fingers typing was hopeless. So I now use dictation. Wretched thing, mis-types practically everything I say - particularly if I’m employing my rather cod Yorkshire accent to dictate a character. It cussedly misrepresents what I say, particularly if I leave it on when someone brings me a cup of tea and then I find I have ‘typed’ an entire conversation about biscuits through the entire play!

In lockdown, our constant companion at the moment - and he is quite happy with lockdown as it means he sees more of us - is Scampston, named after Scampston Hall, which is a country house just outside Scarborough. Scamps is a chocolate Burmese. He’s been caught listening to not just Handel, but quite modern stuff! John Adams and all that business. Philip Glass he particularly likes! He’s quite a sophisticated cat, a very classical cat.

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