Forty Years On (play)

Forty Years On is a 1968 play by Alan Bennett. It was his first West End play.


The play is set in a British public school called Albion House ("Albion" is an ancient word for Britain), which is putting on an end of term play in front of the parents, i.e. the audience. The play within the play is about the changes that had happened to the country following the end of the Great War in 1918 and the loss of innocence and a generation of young men.[1] In a 1999 study of Bennett's work, Peter Wolfe writes that the author calls the piece "part play, part revue"; Wolfe describes it as "nostalgic and astringent, elegiac and unsettling".[2]

The play includes a satire on T. E. Lawrence; known as "Tee Hee Lawrence" because of his high-pitched, girlish giggle. "Clad in the magnificent white silk robes of an Arab prince ... he hoped to pass unnoticed through London. Alas he was mistaken." The section concludes with the headmaster confusing him with D. H. Lawrence.

Russell Harty, whom Bennett had become friends with at Exeter College, Oxford, was teaching English at Giggleswick School when the play was written. Harty was housemaster of Carr House and several of the schoolboys in the play had the surnames of boys in Carr House.[citation needed]


The first production of Forty Years On opened at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue on 31 October 1968, directed by Patrick Garland and was an immediate success.[3] The school's headmaster was played by John Gielgud; Paul Eddington was Franklin and Alan Bennett played Tempest. It ran until 24 November 1969. The full cast was:

  • Bottomley – Stephen Leigh
  • Cartwright – Andrew Branch
  • Charteris – Freddie Foot
  • Crabtree – Colin Reese
  • Dishforth – Peter Kinley
  • Foster – William Burleigh
  • Franklin – Paul Eddington (portrayed by David Horovitch in the 1984 revival and Robert Bathurst in the audio drama)
  • Gillings – Dickie Harris
  • Headmaster – John Gielgud (portrayed by Emlyn Williams in the last 3 months of the original run, Paul Eddington in the 1984 revival and Alan Bennett in the audio drama)
  • Jarvis – Stephen Price
  • Leadbetter – Paul Guess
  • Lord – Robert Langley
  • Macilwaine – Keith McNally
  • Matron – Dorothy Reynolds (portrayed by Phyllida Law in the 1984 revival and Eleanor Bron in the audio drama)
  • Miss Nisbitt – Nora Nicholson
  • Moss – Mark Hughes
  • Organist – Carl Davis
  • Rumbold – Merlin Ward
  • Salter – Denis McGrath
  • Skinner – Anthony Andrews
  • Spooner – Roger Brain
  • Tempest – Alan Bennett (portrayed by Stephen Fry in the 1984 revival)
  • The Lectern Reader – Robert Swann
  • Tredgold – George Fenton
  • Tupper – Allan Warren
  • Wigglesworth – Thomas Cockrell
  • Wimpenny – Philip Chappell

A revival of the play has been staged by Chichester Festival Theatre, with Richard Wilson playing the Headmaster, in April 2017.[4]


  1. ^ Gaisford, Sue "Nearly 40 years on and Bennett is having another attack of nostalgia", The Sunday Times, 6 August 2000
  2. ^ Wolfe p. 9
  3. ^ Wardle, Irving. "Fifth Form Britain", The Times 1 November 1968, p. 13
  4. ^ "Forty Years On". Chichester Festival Theatre. Retrieved 18 April 2017.