Anthony Burgess Q&A

London 1986

“They think a bit more highly of me in France. Which is a bit of a blow because I’m not terribly fond of the French, but still…”

JS: You’ve been on both sides of the tape recorder, haven’t you ?
AB: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, I’ve done this myself, I did one with Yves St Laurent (strong emphasis on the pronunciation). In Paris for the New York Times magazines, in 1977 – in French of course, that was not easy.

AB: There will be another volume which I hope I shall write next year, from now up until nearer to death I suppose… The book is pretty well complete in itself, it’s more like a novel I suppose. Not of great interest to your readers perhaps (arch scrutiny), they’re all young, like yourself, you’re ever so young. I don’t know how interested they are in the old, or indeed the past. Of course they’ll get old themselves, that’s part of living.

Youth is part of a continuum, you don’t know where youth stops and middle age begins, or when old age begins. That’s the thing that worries me most about this post-war generation, the fact that it’s been assumed youth is special. Youth is special. Youth is over here and old age is over there. The two don’t meet. Of course they meet very much.

What I’ve tried to do is to show what it was like to be young before the war, in the North, and what it was like to be in the army, when one was young. To make it clear, I think that that’s where we lost out, by losing 10 years of life in the war. We learnt nothing in the war. Some people died, others were lucky. We had to start at the age of 30 as if we were 20. It explains why one has to work quickly in old age, there’s not been enough time you see ? There’s been a very great shortage of time.”

(Burgess says all this before I’ve hardly opened my mouth, or checked the tape is rolling.)

JS: Does writing an autobiography make you dwell on very serious issues – what one has done with one’s life, why one lives, life and death, regrets ?
AB: “You prefer to use the material of your life in novels and films, indeed, but when a publisher comes along and commissions a job, asks will you do it, you say well I’d better do it, chiefly because other people proposed doing it, better get in first before they tell too many lies, tell the best lies first.” (Again, he says this with arch seriousness, no joke).

“The writing starts off difficult, you don’t know whether you’re writing a novel – you don’t know what you’re writing – or not because you’re writing about somebody you don’t know anymore. Somebody over there, well in the past, a different age, somebody in a film almost, grainy, God, is that me ? There’s no real unity in the characters. I think the only unity we have as people is that we occupy the same space and the same time, old or young. I don’t think the person I’m writing about in the book is very much like me now.”

So you do write with regret ?
“With terrible regret… You always regret the life you’ve lived… That goes with terrible shame: you’ve done the wrong things, and a kind of humility. I don’t think anybody of any sense is going to write his autobiography and say look what a great man I am, how marvelous I was. The value of writing it at all is not writing about oneself, it’s the writing about what’s in me that is not in other people. I think that’s one of the jobs of the autobiographer.”

“I had something like total recall for a time, it leaves you at about 40, it begins to go, you remember very selectively. You always remember the things that are of absolutely no interest. I have a terrific memory of popular songs, not of today; in rock songs, I can’t hear the words. I wonder what the hell the brain is playing at. I mean biologically it’s of no value, remembering a song that was popular in the 1920s (mutters seriously): ‘Yes We Have No Bananas.’ No virtue in that at all… I remember the trivial things. I think a lot of us do.”

JS: How long did it take you to write ?
AB: “To write the book itself took about 3 or 4 months.”

“Antonio, don’t be ridiculous” interjects his wife, Liana.
“What ? I can’t hear you. What are you saying ?” Burgess snaps sternly.
“How long did this book take to write then ?” he asks his wife. “It seemed like 3 or 4 months to me.”
“Much longer.”
“6 months ? 7 months ? Was it ? Yes.”

JS: What about the process of re-writing ?
AB: “I re-write every page but I don’t produce an entire first draft and re-write that. I do it by the page. When I’ve finished a page, that’ll do, get on to the next page. That’s the old habit of writing music, you know, if you’re writing work for an orchestra, which I used to do, you have to get each bar right, you can’t do a rough draft score, too big a job. That’s how I am (wanting every sentence to be perfect), get the sentence right and get on to the next one.”

He says he uses a word processor, not for fiction, only for articles and asks me if I use one.

AB: It’s a dangerous apparatus. You tend to be very careless. Anything will do because you know you can correct it. Writing on a typewriter, you tend to get the sentence in your head first, like a piece of music. ‘Does it sound alright ? Yes, good.’ I think the word processor will ruin prose in time. My wife bought one for me” (says brilliantly pertinently).

Liana: “He said he wanted one.”
AB: “Well, naturally you are curious about the damn thing” (he says brusquely) and in fact I found it useful, only for writing articles.”

He considers – as he seems to do with everything – with virtues of all sides of this debate.
“You try to write an article well, but you know it’s forgotten. With a book it’s rather different. For people who are lucky enough to be able to use a pen, which I’m not, that’s probably the best way. Writing with a pen you think you’ve written more than you have, you know, because of the labour of a pen. I think the pen is too close to the heart. With a typewriter, there’s distance. It’s a machine already. There’s a new kind of publishing, in which the print, the authors print out which can have justified margins and italics and everything, it’s just copied, that’s the book of the future. There’s plenty of those kinds of books around…scientific books. There’s a book called ‘Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage’, which is done in that form. It’s not a printed book. It’s a photocopied printout. And not from a very good machine I think, because there are no italics, just underlinings…”

This is clearly heresy.

JS (trying to steer him back to the book, the previous discourse, the interview) So, was regret your predominant feeling, looking back ?
AB: “Yes. You regret you’ve wasted so much time…”

JS: When you were young, did you have a strong idea of what you wanted life to be ?
AB: “I knew that I would never be a footballer or a cricketer or engineer. I knew it was a matter of knowing I had to be an artist of some kind… Not knowing what kind and spending a lot of time trying to find out when I began. I was going to be a great painter or cartoonist, sent a few cartoons to Punch, they all came back. That was the ambition, then I finally wanted to be a musician. Finally – fairly late – I decided I was going to be a writer, not because writing is easier than the others… You find something missing in yourself… This is not unusual of course. Robert Browning was in that situation. It’s in his poems, about music, about painters. ‘Frau Lippo Lippi’…”
(Fra Lippo Lippi is a dramatic monologue by Browning in which the poet asks whether art should be true to life or an idealized image of life.)

JS: What were you like as a teenager ?
The very word ‘teenager’ sparks him off rather than the question it appeared in.
AB: Well, I suppose the very concept ‘teenager’ didn’t really apply in those days. Interesting you should say that, that’s a very contemporary concept, isn’t it ? With the magazines and even books for teenagers, the concept of the teenager as a separate entity, when you’re 20 you cease to be that person and join a new culture, I never really felt that in those days. The only culture available was an adult culture and we’d better start joining it as quickly as we could. There were boys’ magazines, children’s magazines I suppose.”

His wife points out that ‘with his special language’ (A Clockwork Orange), he himself helped the process along.
AB: “Oh that, well to hell with that. I regret that I wrote a book that gave a kind of impetuous to that.”

“I do believe that I don’t know if it was good for us or bad for us. Before the war, we used to read kids’ comics, the expensive ones which were coloured at the top, and cheap ones for a penny. These may still be around. We read adventure magazines. There was no self-glorification. We had to become adults as soon as possible, even the dress, we had to wear ties, hat.. You came to the adult world this way. Everything was against you. You couldn’t marry. There was no easy sex, no sex available. Morality said no. There was nowhere you could take a girl ever. You could go to the cinema, go to the park. Everything was furtive, a strong sense of sin. Sin, sin, sin, sin…

The smell of the past comes back, yes, yes. I thought I was a very ordinary sort of lower middle-class Catholic youth, bit weedy, needed to fill out a bit, short-sighted, worried about sex, worried about God, wondering what the hell the future held. Of course, the future was taken care of for us in 1939. We had a war and that became a career. It was a long war, six years, but you were still in the army for a year after that. And then the consequences, yes, trying to make a life. Naturally the government did nothing for us, they always said: ‘We won’t forget you lads’, but by God they did.”

JS: You feel a strong sense of recognition with that time. AB: “A strong sense a lot of time wasted. I think we all feel that. We do waste a lot of time, whether we should or shouldn’t I don’t know. One of the troubles with the younger generation now is that they don’t think existentially. They don’t think time has to be used, we’re changing through time, we have to do something with time; they think essentially: we are. This is reinforced by taking drugs of course. You know a drug, even a drug like marijuana, but even more with heroin, certainly with opium, which I have taken. It does get rid of time altogether, it gives you eternal present, I think that’s what a lot of kids want… They won’t get it, because they can’t stop themselves growing up. They can’t stop themselves from growing bald, becoming parents, becoming fat, paying the mortgage, even the Rolling Stones… Get rid of the future, kill the future by killing yourself.”

JS: Have you enjoyed your life ?
AB: “My life ? I’ve enjoyed… er, yes, you can’t avoid enjoying it. There are certain sensations, the sensations of drink, tobacco, sex, the sea wind in your face, all these sorts of banal things, the sensuous life is delightful, nobody can deny that, but the mental life is a bit difficult.”

JS: No writer is happy ?
AB: “No, you can’t be happy because you can’t be satisfied. You try to write well but you realise you can’t write any better than you are already. Next time it will be different. That’s why you go on writing. This man, Malcolm Muggeridge, says this thing that haunts me. ‘I thank God that I have attained total mastery over the English language’. Terrible thing to say. He had mastery over a particular kind of journalese, but not language, God no, not like James Joyce, D H Lawrence…”

JS: Did you really want to “stop this hell of writing ?” This “addiction” ?
AB: “Well I thought I might finish writing, but I don’t think I can stop writing. New ideas come up, which you feel have to be expressed. Complexes, new complexes of ideas, i.e. the material for a novel, so there are one or two things I have to write (he says despondently)… The death of Ford Madox Ford… Do you read Ford Madox Ford ?”

I admit, to my shame that I do not but he continues, as if musing to himself, or he already knew – by looking at me.
AB: “Does anybody know Ford Madox Ford ? I think he was the greatest British writer novelist of the century, although he’s totally ignored now, but he died as I think a writer should die, with a contract, a 3-novel contract on his desk, which he had not signed because he died of a heart attack, with a couple of students’ manuscripts he was looking at and the text of a book he was ready to give over to the press… He died in harness in other words. He died aged 65 – younger than I am. In Toulon, that was in Toulon. People who found him dead in the room noted that… I think that’s good, that’s noble, that’s heroic.”

JS: For some one who is nearly 70, you seem as if your fear or hatred of old age has kept you active, kept you young.
AB: “What worries me is to see old age, or retirement age, like a lot of people and think: ‘what the hell do they do.’ I fear that education has not equipped them to use old age… same everywhere. Same in America – you see these great fat slobs, senior citizens you know, with their hearing aids, going to Europe, going to live in Miami, nothing to do except congregate with each other. In America, of course what is horrible is they’ve got to pretend they’re young. One of our problems is, we have a culture for teenagers. We don’t have a culture for the old. The Chinese have it, the old are automatically wise, therefore they have to be listened to. The same is true of tribal Africa. It’s reasonable to say ‘this bloke has lived for a long time, he must know something, he’s not doing anything, so let’s make him a wise man’, very reasonable… But not in England. You’re going to have a lot of old people soon. I’ve lived in Hove myself, yes, yes. I went to Hove, rather disgusted by the old people doing nothing, sitting in pubs, on the prom, corny gestures to each other. ‘You’re looking well today Mrs… Oh God…no, it’s a pity. The old do nothing. I mean, they go to Bingo, you see, this is horrible, they play Bingo, fill in time, waiting for death, they don’t read, they don’t study.”

“Match Of The Day, or this bloody snooker, I think reading, you’ve got to read. Books and music are the most important things there are… To some extent, they won’t allow you to be a missionary for books on television, yes. I would accept that. I try to become a missionary for books. Books are so important, so remarkable. Books are an incredible invention. You can put them in your pocket. You don’t have to plug them into anything.

I propose theory that the type of seriousness he represents justifies a lot of the nonsense in popular culture – like Wogan.
AB: “Seriousness is not permitted, not permitted at all. In America, they just say we interrupt this seriousness for a commercial break, when you come back you’ve gone. We’ve gone wrong with that in some ways. Your readers watch TV, don’t they ?”

JS: When you do get a letter, it’s so…
AB: “Illiterate, yes…”
JS: No, I mean it’s great to get a letter these day.
AB: “Oh, it’s not illiterate, well I agree. People should. Authors need their feedback… I must mention this. I reviewed fiction for the Yorkshire Post for about 2 years. In all that time, I only had one letter from a reader. This was from an orchid expert who took issue with me about something I’d said about a particular orchid having no smell, now this was in a literary review. The only letter I ever had, about a bloody orchid.”

Liana: “Was it John Fowles ?”
AB: “No, it was before John Fowles. It could’ve been John Fowles. He’s an orchid man, yes. It’s not so bad in America. They do write but they write crazy letters. They try and convert you to God. ‘Your books display the fact you’ve missed your way’ etc. You very rarely get a letter about a book that makes a point you can learn from. By Christ, he’s right ! You expect that from the critics, you don’t get it, however, I was interrupting you…”

JS: What would be your major disappointments, as a writer after this period ?
AB: “The lack of a rapport with Britain, which is disappointing for a British author. The feeling he’s not getting across to British readers. It’s horrible to find you’re getting over much better to Polish readers than English, or French, or Swedish or German. It’s something more than the public. It’s something to do with England which I can’t quite explain. It may be that we’re ceasing to be a literary nation, not concerned with books. Of course we have produced the greatest literature in the world, probably the greatest language. I think it’s the way the British themselves are. I think it’s the way they’re given a lead by the British establishment, a false lead they’re given not only by Mrs Thatcher and her husband but by the Royal Family. There’s no sense in England that literature is important. In France it’s different, they have their prizes, their committees, here it’s a great joke. The major disappointment before then was trying to become a great composer and not really succeeding.”

JS: Do you have many friends ? There’s no sense in the book of any warmth, any friends at all.
AB: “No, no, that’s the most difficult thing in the world to find. One has friends, but no, that’s quite true, perfectly true. No, no, I don’t regret that. I think we all go through the phase of assuming acquaintances are friends. I’ve not really been sure quite what a friend is. They’re not people you would unburden your mind to. Writing does that, yes. I don’t know why that is. Maybe the kind of friends I should’ve made would all have been inside the Catholic fold, which I was getting out of anyway. I was dubious about making friends with anyone who didn’t understand my own background. Yes, very lonely, very, very lonely, yes. Marriage of course is a great solver of loneliness. Are you married ?”

JS: Not yet.
AB: “Are you going to get married ? The main purpose of marriage is to create a new kind of individual made out of two. When you’re young, your girlfriends seem frivolous. The kind of friends I might have had were all Catholics, and I was trying to get out of the church, trying to get out of that kind of ambience. In the army you meet kind of ‘mates’. Australian mateship, which is very valuable in itself, very good but, friendship, I’ve never really known it. I don’t have any friends now, no. Cut off, you see. I don’t have any friends really. You have friends (he says accusingly to his wife), don’t you ?”

JS: Even I’ve got friends !
AB: “You’ve got friends, that’s good, you’re lucky in that. Correspond with people, meet people occasionally, you don’t worry.

JS: Do you regret that circumstances, the death of your mother for example before you were even one year old, instilled an emotional coldness and that affected your writing too ?
AB: “Very true. Something you don’t get over. That’s very astute of you. It does have that effect, a tendency not to be willing to express emotion. I think we all need a mother. We may learn to hate her eventually, but I think you need that special relationship. The mother teaches you about emotion, how to express emotion, she teaches you about love. Very simply, in my situation it was very difficult to learn. When you were with a girl, this perpetual shyness as if you were approaching a creature of a kind you’d never really met before. I think in the women you choose there’s probably something of your mother. And then estranged from my father, naturally very resentful that I should go on living in that way, and his wife, my mother, should not. Explains the withdrawal on his part, the total lack of… I was prepared to be friendly, learn from him. I went drinking with him. There wasn’t the opportunity really to further that relationship. He died when I was 20.”

JS: There is a coldness in the autobiography. You write about the ‘detested’ stepmother.’
AB: “I suppose writing about her, I’ve been kind to her. I see that it’s not easy to be a stepmother, running a big pub, she needed a man. I suppose she was kinder to me than I deserved. Her two daughters came first, naturally.”

JS: I was quite shocked too at the way that you wrote of your wife who you didn’t even seem to like at all.
AB: “Love’s a very strange thing, you see. Fidelity is a strange thing, and duty. Honour comes into it, yes. These words are terribly out-dated, aren’t they ? On the other hand, you can have a ghastly relationship with someone but you’ve known that person for a long time. The ghastly relationship is part of your life. This is difficult to write about. It’s even more difficult to write about for the second book, going to be. I was trying to be honest, and honesty doesn’t always pay.”

“(Brusquely) That was madness after the war, a lot of people went through this madness… Homes were falling apart. The divorce courts couldn’t cope. Soldiers killing their wives and their American lovers, it was a ghastly kind of moral upheaval, which neither the Church of England nor the government was able to cope with. In a way I feel it was their responsibility to warn of this kind of thing, to say look, the padres talked about God, their job to solve this horrible problem of soldiers serving in a war with his wife being seduced by the free French, the free Poles and the free Americans. This never got into films or fiction, only one film dealt with this, a film called ‘Yanks’. It wasn’t a terribly good film. We had ABCA, the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, Know Your Enemy. We know who our bloody enemy is, the free French, the Americans, the Poles, the Yanks. The Germans were remote, we’d rather have killed the Yanks, nobody dare say this. There was this poster all over London: ‘Your Courage, Your Fortitude, Your Example Will Bring Us Victory.’ Incredible, isn’t it ? Millions of these damn things everywhere. It’s not really stopped, there’s no rapprochement between government and ordinary people. This is my big cry, this is my big cry from the heart. To hell with literature ! To hell with books! This is my cry.”

JS: How do you rate yourself as a writer ?
AB: “Oh God, it’s difficult to say, isn’t it ? I don’t know. I get hurt when people say the important thing about Burgess is that he writes a lot, because I don’t think that’s relevant. I try to write well. If I’d written fewer books, they might have found more virtue in them. (He doesn’t say if he’d written more sparingly, the books might have been improved with time, or been better books). When you write a lot this is what you’re known for. On the other hand, I don’t write a lot, not by traditional standards… I do a job. I try to do a job the best I can, try to hone the blade, keep it sharp… I try to tell the truth… I do, I try to tell the truth. I don’t think I’m arrogant.”

Hubris (wife).
AB: When I first began to write I had no conception of the amount being published. I only began to realize it when I began to review novels for the Yorkshire Post, when they sent me every damn novel that came out, reviewing 6 or 7 books a fortnight, they are the competition… Then I realized about 90% of these books were no good anyway, the important thing was honesty, I felt.”

JS: Did you aim for greatness ?
AB: “Greatness ? You want to write a book that the world considers a masterpiece, we all do. Who is good and who is bad ? I have my doubts about the standard of the critic. I don’t think William Golding is as good as they say. He got the Nobel Prize because he had a gang of people working for him… ‘The Greatness of Iris Murdoch’, I don’t know… I’m not prepared to use that word about anybody writing now. I think we have to wait a little, let it all settle down a bit after death. I would think Graham Greene was a great writer, suddenly seen him for what he is, rather popular, with Catholic overtones, which the thoughtful may like. When I consider that a man like Ford Madox Ford is totally neglected, probably out of print (I assure him he isn’t), rather like Joseph Conrad, ask the average person.”

JS: Which three book would you leave for posterity ?
AB: “Difficult question, an attempt at brilliance but it’s not really worked – this ‘Enderby’ thing, that might do. The big book, ‘Earthly Powers’, and ‘MF’ which came out at the wrong time, nobody understood it. It was a first attempt to write a structuralist novel,that was before the works of Levi Strauss were known over here. I feel ashamed of saying it anyway. To feel you’ve done well is very dangerous. It’s not my fault, he mutters.

He tops up our drinks: “Napoleon brandy, it’s good.”

JS: What do you think of the view that authors have one idea that they write and re-write – a book that only you could write ? Surely you disprove that ?
AB: “Evelyn Waugh said that. I don’t know. Horrible to say, isn’t it ? I think I’ve been moderately good at showing that certain old Catholic doctrines are probably correct, that we do have the power of choice, we can choose between good and evil, and this is what being human is about. The other is that we are born into a state of original sin (knowing the difference between good and evil). We have a tendency to become Myra Hindley, Ian Brady, I feel that very strongly. If we’re not very careful, sometimes we can see ourselves being that. The notion of a single personality inside the skin is probably a false one. There are several personalities, the contention of devils, I think as I get older, I see the only thing worth writing about is that we have a choice. I think also that it’s as well to try and be fairly compassionate to evil-doers, and to have a sense of humour, I think that’s important. So many humourless bastards around there are… Especially in politics.”

JS: Didn’t Graham Greene say Life gets easier as you get older ?
AB: “Life doesn’t get easier.”

JS: Is life hard ?
AB: “Life is hard, but it isn’t hard because we make it hard, it’s because the state makes life hard. I always believed the state is a damned nuisance, the state is always giving you forms to fill in ! Wipe out individuality, make you a statistic, it wants your money before it tells you what it’s going to do with it and, er, it, er, doesn’t want you to be a free individual, it wants you to be easily controllable, capable of fitting into a computer, with no special individual quirk. I think the state, wherever I am, the state is not too bad here. It takes a hell of a lot of money from you. This state treats us badly. It treats writers badly. If you’re living abroad, it assumes you’re very wealthy and you don’t need the lending fees. That is unjust. A lot of people live abroad ‘cos they’re very poor, ‘cos they’re ill.”

JS: What was the happiest time of your life ?
AB: The happiest time of my life was the year we were first married. We were free. We bought a Bedford Dormobile, yes ? Which cost about 1,000 quid.

Liana: “£1,600.”
AB: “Very nice, lived and slept in it, cooked in it. Through France, Italy, eventually Malta. I think I was happier then. I was healthier then, working, writing. It was an ideal life. You can’t to it. Try and do it today. Try where you can park the damned thing (both shouting – hit a nerve here).

JS: Isn’t it the spirit that you want, not the Dormobiles ?
Oh no, she says. It was wonderful.
AB: “Step out of this thing, carrying nothing,” he butts in. “It became two rooms at night, two big beds, two large beds. So…it was called Feel Free To Feel Free.
Liana: “You wanted to write a book, that was going to be called ‘Feel Free to Be Free’.

AB: “That was a corny title. I was going to write a book about that. ‘Feel free to be free’. You can’t do it now. You try getting one of these and parking it somewhere, everything has to be lower than 6ft. It was like an ambulance. That was a possible life, you could have a library, radio, I was very happy, very fit too, began to lose weight, began to stop drinking heavily, eating sensibly, sleeping sensibly. The police and the thieves and the vandals, but…come home with piles of letters, income tax, the real world. If only they’d leave you alone ! They don’t leave you alone ! Do they ?! We’ve been living in Switzerland for the last few months trying to get a book written and they won’t leave us alone. Cantonal taxes, tourist tax, community taxes, bloody things, they won’t leave us alone, they put you in jail if you haven’t got a dipstick. I think probably this is a fairly free country, as far as I know.”

JS: What about the concept of Heaven ?
AB: “There’s a very good poem written by Ford Madox Ford called ‘Heaven’, about the end of war. He had a vision of heaven being somewhere like Toulon, French wine, French cuisine and the sea air, I don’t suppose we’re allowed that but that’d be good enough for me.”

JS: Do you believe in it ?
AB: “In heaven ? No. I wish to God I did (I laugh). I believe in hell. I believe that God exists. I believe that God is a bastard (bluntly). I believe that God must exist because it’s the only way of explaining the mess we’ve been living in. Only God could explain the Nazi holocaust, that’s what the Jews say. I think the Jews are right.”

JS: Do you still feel you’re Catholic ?
AB: “Only in the sense that there’s nothing else. The Church of England’s failed, Communism’s failed, conservatism’s failed, socialism. Being Catholic is still true, you are born in a state of original sin. That’s what this Pope should be saying all the time, instead he says (adopts perfect Papal intonation) ‘The ab-orig-ines must have their land back.’

JS: Do you believe when you die you’re dead.
AB: I feel it’s possible…I think that if there is life after death, it’s a personality that is in us, which we may call the soul, which we don’t know anything about. I don’t think I myself will go to heaven, with this tie on, into the next world.”

JS: How do you feel about dying ?
AB: I was asked that question on French television last week… The French are very keen on it (brilliant delivery, arch humour)… they asked how I wanted to die. I said ‘au lit’ – in bed, in a hotel of great luxury, drunk with a lovely woman in my arms… It didn’t go down well with the French. You don’t think, right, I’m dying. I think, ‘I must write a book about that’ – to get it out of my system. Did you see that Powell/Pressburger film, ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, with David Niven about an RAF pilot who crashed and should be dead, but is hovering, they had this world in full colour, the next world in black and white, I feel like that. The next world’s in black and white. God is also Beethoven’s 9th symphony. (Drunk now).”

JS: Who would you go and talk to ?
AB: “From the Christian angle, it has to be a physical heaven because we’re not angels, we have bodies, therefore there must be a censorium, this is what St Paul taught, ‘in my flesh I shall see God’… There may be drink in heaven, the Muslims believe that. The Muslims believe there are whores in heaven, everything, sherbet, even alcohol. It’s a nice idea, I think it’s true.”

JS: Who would you drink with in heaven ?
AB: “Aha. Rabelais, Francois Rabelais, William Shakespeare.”

Asked for a sex symbol, he jokes about Lucretia Borgia, then present company excepted… We mustn’t keep a lady waiting.

We’ll do a photograph…or you will…

AB: I’ve enjoyed this immensely, you’re a very fine interviewer, I agree, it’s a great gift… I like it. It’s not fair to be blamed for things you intended… I suffer like hell from it. What’s happened to our critics ? I am one, yes. If one is an author, a writer, you tend to have more compassion, more understanding. If a boy comes along, the difficulty of writing a book is so great anyway, that some young boy comes along with a bad book you’ve got to be kind. I mean by God, he’s written a book, he’s done the job.”