In Conversation

Philip Saville and his wife, the writer Jane Arden, had both attended R.A.D.A. with me and were to be life-long friends. Looking back, I link them with a friendship that had dated from the time of my writing my first play, that with the psychiatrist Ronald Laing. Indeed, the background to my writing ‘A Masque of Summer’ had been an ongoing colloquy with Ronald, his psychiatrist friends, and the philosopher and surgeon Joseph Schorstein. These conversations through the long winter nights of Glasgow began to bring together Laing’s critical analysis of the crude psychiatric practice of that time, and the existentialism of German thought. It was in the light of what I learned there that I was later to learn with horror that Vivien Leigh was being forced to submit to electric shock treatment, the then unnecessary clinical solution to a shipwrecked marriage. Through Schorstein we passed from the christian Paul Tillich into the central stream of German existentialism, first Jaspers, and ultimately the great and towering presence of Heidegger. With Ronald Laing in London, now a TV celebrity, while he had to put up with the frivolity of the Talk-Show crowd, Antonia Fraser, Lord Hailsham, et al., we were to spend memorable evenings with the Savilles in conversations of immeasurable wealth for us. Laced with our own direct interest in the subject matter of Heidegger and Melanie Klein was a growing recognition that the parliamentary system was no longer the seat of power. One evening we persuaded James Mossman, the then leading TV interviewer, openly to ask the Prime Minister what in fact he believed in, what were the moral imperatives that drove his social pragmatism. The following evening he sprang the questions on a flabbergasted Harold Wilson, who stuttered to a complete halt. The interview ended abruptly. Two outcomes unmask the true nature of democracy. The fury of Wilson led to the effective dismissal of Mossman from the BBC. The other result was less expected. The BBC was flooded with viewers calling in, distressed and panicked by the wounding of their leader.

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