Habeas Corpus

Written by Alan Bennett

Thurs 1st December - Sat 3rd December & Thurs 8th December - Sat 10th December 1977

Directed by Peter Corrigan

Each one of us is walking the world because someone somewhere happened to bring their body and lay it against another body. Everyone.

AuthorAlan Bennett

Alan Bennett (b 1934)

Bennett was born in Armley in Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire. He graduated with a first-class degree in history at Oxford where he performed comedy with a number of eventually successful actors in the Oxford Revue. He remained at the university for several years, where he researched and taught Medieval History. In 1960, Bennett appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe. Bennett's first stage play, Forty Years On directed by Patrick Garland was produced in 1968. Many television, stage and radio plays followed, along with screenplays, short stories, novellas, a large body of non-fictional prose and broadcasting, and many appearances as an actor.

Many of Bennett's characters are unfortunate and downtrodden, or meek and overlooked. Life has brought them to an impasse, or else passed them by altogether. In many cases they have met with disappointment in the realm of sex and intimate relationships, largely through tentativeness and a failure to connect with others. Bennett is both unsparing and compassionate in laying bare his characters' frailties. This can be seen in his television plays for LWT in the late 1970s and the BBC in the early 1980s, and in the 1987 Talking Heads series of monologues for television which were later performed at the Comedy Theatre in London in 1992. This was a sextet of poignantly comic pieces, each of which depicted several stages in the character's decline from an initial state of denial or ignorance of their predicament, through a slow realisation of the hopelessness of their situation, and progressing to a bleak or ambiguous conclusion. A second set of six Talking Heads pieces followed a decade later.

In his 2005 prose collection 'Untold Stories' Bennett wrote candidly and movingly of the mental illness that afflicted his mother and other family members. Much of his work draws on his Leeds background, and his stage play 'The Lady in the Van' was based on his experiences with a tramp called Miss Shepherd who lived on his driveway in several dilapidated vans for over fifteen years. In 1994 Bennett adapted his popular and much-praised 1991 play The Madness of George III for the cinema which received four Academy Award nominations. His critically-acclaimed The History Boys won three Laurence Olivier Awards in February 2005. Bennett himself received the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre.

Bennett was made an Honorary Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford in 1987. He was also awarded a D.Litt by the University of Leeds in 1990 and a hon PhD from Kingston in 1996. However in 1998 he refused an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, in protest at its accepting funding for a named chair in honour of press baron Rupert Murdoch. He also declined a CBE in 1988 and a knighthood in 1996. He earned Honorary Membership of The Coterie in the 2007 membership list. In 2008 Bennett donated his entire archive of working papers, unpublished manuscripts, diaries and books to the Bodleian Library. It was a gesture of thanks repaying a debt he felt he owed to the UK's social welfare system that had given him educational opportunities which his humble family background would otherwise never have afforded.

PlayHabeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus was first performed at the Lyric Theatre in London on 10 May 1973, with Alec Guinness and Margaret Courtenay in the lead roles. Bennett's first play, written in 1973, it is a comedy set in Brighton in the 1960s where the lust and longing of the permissive society has well and truly taken hold of the apparently respectable Wicksteed family.

The aging Dr. Arthur Wicksteed pursues his nubile patient, Felicity Rumpers. Wicksteed's wife Muriel lusts after the charming head of the BMA, Sir Percy Shorter. Shorter as well as being Wicksteed's old rival, turns out to be Felicity's father - the result of an under-the-table liaison during an air-raid with Lady Rumpers, her mother. Meanwhile, Wicksteed's spinster-sister Connie, ashamed of her flat-chestedness, has schemes of her own. Like some saucy Magill seaside postcard as retouched by Magritte, or an end-of-the-pier romp reorganised by Orton, the piece shows how a collection of stock types from Hove find themselves propelled into the permissive society with the arrival of a false-breast fitter from Leatherhead. Identities are mistaken, the wrong knockers admiringly fondled, and libidos burst out of enforced hibernation.

The Bench Production

Habeas Corpus poster image

This play was the first of the Bench Theatre plays to be staged at the Bench Theatre's new home; Havant Arts Centre at The Old Town Hall, East Street, Havant (a building which would later be known as The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre). It was also the first play to officially assign the name of Bench Theatre to the company of players. Prior to this play, the group of actors had been known as 'Theatre Union at the Bench Theatre' (but the name was often shortened informally by critics and even the members themselves to 'Bench Theatre' to refer to the actors, the company AND the building). The new company name of Bench Theatre was adopted in to all the promotional literature after the company moved from the old Bench Theatre in West Street, Havant which had been their home for nearly 7 years.

Bench Theatre staged this play again in 1994 at Havant Arts Centre as part of its 25th Anniversary celebrations held that year.


Arthur WicksteedIan Nelson
Muriel WicksteedEve Moore
Dennis WicksteedTim Morris
Constance WicksteedRobbie Cattermole
Mrs SwabbJacquie Penrose
Canon ThrobbingBrian Montefiore
Lady RumpersJen Jones
Felicity RumpersCaryl Hayter
Mr ShanksTony Czapp
Sir Percy ShorterDerek Cusdin
Mr PurdueBrian Sweatman


Director Peter Corrigan
Assistant Director Anne Brodrick
Stage Manager Trevor Hare
Assistant Stage Manager Mary Lowes
Lighting Spokey Wheeler
Costumes Anne Brodrick
Sound John Davies
Front of House Ingrid Corrigan
Stage Crew Peter Duncan
Paul Brodrick

Programme Notes

New Sex Rules For Docs

Medical bosses are drawing up rules to deal with doctors who fall in love with patients. The new guidelines are expected to be published before the end of the year. The present strict rules regarding doctors who have sex with a patient are expected to be broadened.

This is because only a tiny number of doctors actually become sexually involved with patients and attitudes towards sex are changing generally. A report in the British Journal of Medical Ethics today says that only one sex-with-a-patient case was heard by the General Medical Council in the years 1974 and 1975. Only fourteen such cases were heard in the five years from 1970 to 1975, The report, by Sir Denis Hill of the London Institute of psychiatry, adds: "The pursuit of sexual gratification is now regarded by many, including many in the medical profession, as a very desirable and healthy activity. But Sir Denis warns that, without the confidence of the public, "the medical profession knows that its status will be destroyed."


The NewsA.J.

'Naughty' laughs at Havant

Theatre-lovers who enjoy a good comedy ought not to miss Alan Bennett's farce 'Habeas Corpus' being staged by Havant Bench Theatre Company. The first showing of the play last night at Havant Arts Centre attracted a large audience which saw a magnificent performance by all the players.

Ian Nelson was particularly effective as Arthur Wicksteed, a doctor who is conscious about growing old and spends his life chasing after young female patients. His victim in this case is Carly Hayter, who plays Felicity Rumpers, a girl who is looking for a husband because she is pregnant. She finds the doctors son Dennis the most suitable person. Tim Morris plays this part well, as a boy who is obsessed with illness. For those who are broad-minded there are plenty of 'naughty bits' in the play and Tony Czapp, who plays Mr Shanks, spends most of his time on the stage looking for his trousers. Mrs Swabb, the maid, played by Jacquie Penrose, knows exactly who is chasing whom and in a very witty way, keeps the audience informed throughout.

Eve Moore as the doctor's wife, Brian Montefiore as the vicar, Jen Jones as Lady Rumpers, Derek Cusdin as Sir Percy Shorter and Brian Sweatman as Mr Purdue complete the cast. The Production was by Peter Corrigan.

The News, 2nd December 1977

Production Photographs