Both still have the blond hair, the glasses and the Yorkshire accent. Both are usually seen seen wearing a tie (unusual these days) and remain productive in their eighties. Both are unashamedly gay, even if one had a short and slightly scandalous flirtation with heterosexuality – and both undoubtedly qualify for genuine National Treasure status.
DAVID HOCKNEY and ALAN BENNETT can still pack them in despite having sold their wares for six decades. Bennett first made his reputation with Beyond the Fringe a clever on Macmillan’s England which he wrote and performed with fellow Cambridge undergraduates Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller. Bennett was the shy grammar school boy in among the confident privately-educated types but it was he and Miller who moved on from the silly but inspired comedy and lasted the pace while Cook and Moore, wickedly funny at the height of their powers, succumbed to the demons of sex and alcohol which afflict so many professional comedians.
Hockney was never the university type but went to art school in London and knew from the beginning that he would be a painter and nothing else. Even when he painted fashionable types in London or his gay friends in Los Angeles climbing out of the swimming pool, he never forgot Yorkshire and some of his most moving paintings are of his parents and the area he grew up in to where he now often returns. He is packing them in at the Tate at the moment and I went there for the retrospective exhibition of his work recently. Calmly strolling up to the desk I showed my blue badge and got free and immediate admission while everyone else had to wait their turn and pay their way. Thank you Tate. There are some perks to being a qualified guide. If you go to the Tate exhibition, make sure to rent the audio guide which includes recordings of Hockney. He exudes down to earth common sense when talking about his own work, which you might expect from a Yorkshireman.
I cannot imagine Alan Bennett climbing out of or diving into a sunlit swimming pool somehow. He is more of a raincoat and bicycle man with a packet of homemade sandwiches for the train journey to Yorkshire. Like Hockney he has fond memories of his upbringing and parents, not afraid to portray them in his more personal work. He comes from a generation that relied on state support for his education and has never forgiven Tony Blair for increasing tuition fees for university education to £3000, which he feels excludes bright working class children from a poor background similar to his. Bennett has been mining his own life for material recently in diaries and books which in turn are made into plays and films. I cannot get enough of Hockney but would like more art and less anecdote from Bennett and would love him to get back to the imaginative stuff like The History Boys which managed the almost impossible feat of making a paedophile seem sympathetic and The Habit of Art which brought two other two gay artists to life – Benjamin Britten and W H Auden. Keep up the good work, both of you.
Go to http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/david-hockney for more on the Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain (not Tate Modern). It lasts until 29th May.