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I Once Met... Graham Greene - Gavin Henderson

Blog | By Gavin Henderson | Jul 25, 2022

Greene – without envy. The writer in 1964

Gavin Henderson remembers a Brighton afternoon spent with major writer Graham Greene

In 1983, I was appointed Artistic Director of the Brighton Festival. Dickie Attenborough became our president and I thought we should focus on the work of Graham Greene.

It was made clear from the outset that he would never agree to appear in person; he was an inveterate recluse. But we established a correspondence. I would write to his address in Antibes, and prompt replies would come from a postmark in mid-Sussex. His sister lived in Crowborough; she kept a stock of pages signed by him and he would spend hours on the phone dictating his replies to her from France.

In time, I got to talk to his sister by phone. I was exploring the notion of producing one of his plays. He had written long letters about the films, and was clearly keen on my producing a play.

He wrote to me, ‘Of my plays, I only would say that I wouldn’t like The Potting Shed to be shown [in fact one of his few successful West End productions]. I think that For Whom the Bell Chimes is perhaps the most suitable for Brighton and I have a particular affection for The Return of A J Raffles.’

So For Whom the Bell Chimes it was. And yes – he suddenly turned up, accompanied by his brother Hugh Carlton Greene, former DG of the BBC. He was very diffident and apologetic. ‘Might I attend a rehearsal?’ he asked. He was enormously encouraging to the cast – drawn from Brighton-based professionals. He even agreed to have his photograph taken with them.

Then we talked about his old Brighton haunts. I suggested we might visit a few, and so we did. He and Hugh had already lunched at English’s, a once-fine seafood restaurant. First we went to The Cricketers, and there was Winnie who had run this pub for some 50 years and whom Greene remembered well. She shed a few tears – as Greene would now if he came back to the Star and Garter, our next port of call, commonly known as Doctor Brightons, as it is now closed and boarded up.

Having walked along the Palace Pier (where Pinkie met his demise) – which then had its magnificent theatre – we walked along the prom; it was a lovely evening in May with a misty haze over the sea to the horizon. Passing a wind shelter, he recalled the character of Mr Prewitt – the lawyer in Brighton Rock, one of the few based on reality.

He wanted to know about the current unseemly side of Brighton. I briefed him on the ‘knocker boys’ who dropped leaflets into unsuspecting homes, offering quick money for antiques and family treasures, usually as a prelude to burglary. He made some notes and hoped to return to this theme.

We then walked towards the West Pier, with more of it apparent than is now the case.

‘Ah yes,’ said Greene. ‘The West Pier – title of Patrick Hamilton’s novel, and the finest one ever written about Brighton.’

This from the author of Brighton Rock!