A mid-60s television series that fell victim to the BBC’s bizarre tape recycling policy, Alan Bennett’s On the Margin is now reduced from six thirty minute episodes to just 47 minutes of audio. This presumably provides it with a degree of mythic status among Alan Bennett fans, promising some insight into the early development of the great man’s work.
The twelve sketches here swing between slapstick and dry humour, with the dry humour we more commonly associated with Alan Bennett standing out from the rest and being least likely to suffer from age. By far the best sketches are ‘The Lonely Pursuit: A Writer’s World’ and ‘The Defending Council’ which appear around half way through the compilation and provide a real lift. ‘The Critics,’ is the sketch that feels most contemporary.
On the other hand, On the Margin can feel quite dated when it occasionally slips into camp. It’s here that we become most aware that this was made in 1966 and that polite society was quite different 43 years ago.