I was asked to submit films to a list based on the theme of “As good as or better than the book on which it was based”.
One of my submissions Alfie was correctly rejected as it began life not as a novel but a BBC radio play.
I should have known this as the writer Bill Naughton was a close friend of my parents and even a closer friend of my great uncle Gus one of the cleverest people I have met in my life.
Both Bill Naughton and Uncle Gus lived in Pimlico in the sixties.
In one year, I think it must have been 1967, Bill had critical, popular and financial success with Alfie and the play Spring and Port Wine which was put on by Bernard Miles at his Mermaid Theatre in Puddle Dock in the City.
The play later became – as did Alfie – a successful film starring James Mason, Adrienne Posta, Rodney Bewes and Susan George.
Bill decided to be a tax exile on the Isle of Man and he would never write anything like these two successes again though he had written several children stories.
There is an irony here as Alfie and Michael Caine reflected swinging London but Bill, though born in County Mayo, was very much a man of the North. He was a weaver, coal bagman and lorry driver in Bolton.
The North produced Keith Waterhouse from Rotherham, Willis Hall, Alan Sillitoe and Michael Parkinson, who mostly moved south.
Even one of the North’s most famous sons – John Lennon – had moved to Surrey by his twenties.
The problem for Bill was that there was not much to observe in the Isle of Man unless you are a motorbike fan and do not want to pay tax which, to be fair, was very exacting at that period. In his coat he would have a deep “poachers” pocket in which he carried a large pad in which he made observational notes. Alfie actually existed, my parents met him.
Bill, a kindly man, would attend my parents’ dinner parties and always slip me half a crown. He never had children of his own so, looking back, he may have related to me more than I realised.
Sadly, our exchange of letters never survived my moves.
Disappointed by his output after that golden period, he confessed to Uncle Gus that he wondered what sort of legacy he would leave.
Uncle Gus replied that that there would always be a bookshop – Gus had one on the big roundabout in Victoria near the Goring Hotel – which would stock his works.
One day I was passing an antiquarian bookshop in Brighton when I saw one of Bill’s children short stories outside in a rack.
I duly bought it and told the bookseller this story.
Sadly, he was keener to make the sale then hear it.