I don’t know how I never knew that you and Quentin Crisp were soul mates, but it stands to reason, both of you being ex-pupils of the Soho University of Life, I can’t remember how I first became aware of him, whether through his stage appearances or his first book, How To Have A Lifestyle, which I still think is one of the wittiest things ever penned. I knew him a bit, through writing (at Punch) and showbiz (the group I played in sometimes criss-crossed his path, especially at Edinburgh) and just plain fan-worship (I turned up at his place in New York) and I wish now I had tried to correspond with him, but really I would have either tried to show to show off, or been in awe of him, so it is just as well I didn’t. Anyway, to think that he mentioned me to you is wonderful. I wouldn’t send me the letter. Far too risky. Either have it photocopied your end, or wait till I see you one day and we’ll do it together. Then I’ll put it in my cuttings book. I don’t actually have a cuttings book, but I could always buy one.
Yes, I was a week in Spain, doing research into the late great General Franco. This is for a Radio 4 series of 3 half hour programmes. That came about because I did that programme on General de Gaulle last year which they liked, in which I managed to catch alight but respectful tone towards le grande Charles which appealed to them, and they thought I could do it again with little Franco. Well, YOU know – you were in the de Gaulle programme, for heaven’s sake. Franco is very different. We had a talk with a man called Paul Preston who has written a 700 page life of El Caudillo, which took him 10 or more years, and at the end of it he loathed the man as much as when he started.
Anyway, the young woman who is producing the programme (Julia Adamson) took me out to Madrid to talk to lots of people who had worked with Franco, fought against him, suffered from him or admired him, and we are building up a good stock of interviews. But one thing she is slightly short of is personal stories by people like you, so do let me put you in touch with her. Oh, and tell me all about Alicante. When was this? What happened to you? What kind of trouble were you causing this time? Didn’t you know that General Franco had a country to run? How could you have been so ungrateful as to try to disrupt his efforts to make Spain a better place? Honestly, Anne…
We are working on the whole thing in July, so there’s time yet, and it would be great if you were the only interviewee who was in BOTH programmes…
While out there is Spain I read one of Gerard Brenan’s books, the one written in about 1959, when he was touring Spain when it was still poor and hungry, just before the tourists brought “prosperity”. His picture of Franco’s Spain is grim, grim, grim.
We flew up to Galicia for two days to visit Franco’s birthplace, and to meet a man called Fraga who was once in Franco’s cabinet and is still running Galicia. He’s at least 80. People find it very hard to give up power. He must know that if he gives up, he will shrivel up and die.
I had never seen Madrid before. It’s a fine old place. After a while, you begin to think that most Southern European cities are roughly the same, especially in the Paris/Rome/Madrid belt, with the same grand back streets and the same grand public buildings, but Madrid is a superior example of the genre. Bloomin’ hot, though. Forty degrees most days. My brother is just back from Saudi Arabia and says it is fifty degrees there.
We talked to some grand old women, especially one who had spent all the Civil War in an anarchist commune, amazingly unharmed by the fighting. She fled over the Pyrenees at the end of the war, carrying her 2 year old son with her, through mountains scattered with dead and dying bodies. Unbelievable, what some people can do.
With best wishes