In 1991, David and I made a 45-minute documentary art film for Anglia Television on the life of the distinguished novelist and short story writer, Sir Angus Wilson. We called the film, "ECHOES FROM A SUFFOLK GARDEN". Sir Angus had lived for many years in a cottage in Suffolk, close to Felsham Woods, and because he loved the garden that he and his close friend, Tony Garrett, had created together, and because he did so much of his writing out of doors, we decided to make it a central symbol of the film, especially as it was being made for a television company in the region where he lived.
Unfortunately, Sir Angus died in a nursing home near Bury St. Edmunds a few days before we began the film, but Tony Garrett, and Sir Angus’s many literary friends, helped to paint a moving portrait of the man the writer. We also used an actress, Rosalind Shanks, to act some of the more effective speeches from his fiction, and John Savident to speak some of Sir Angus’s own words from his more personal writings.
One of the more original themes in the programme contained dramatised excerpts from his short story, ‘NECESSITY’S CHILD’, which illustrates the very essence of childhood. We used a young boy on the seashore at Walberswick on the east coast of England to suggest an autobiographical element of Sir Angus himself as a child.
Amongst the many locations we visited was the University of East Anglia, where Sir Angus had been a Professor of English Literature. Many of his distinguished colleagues there, such as the writers Malcolm Bradbury and Lorna Sage provided a fascinating assessment of his literary and academic work, and two of his former students, the eminent novelists Rose Tremain and Ian McKewan, added their own perceptive admiration of the contribution Sir Angus had brought to the world of literature.
Sir Angus Wilson’s life was exceedingly full, and he had many different interests and passions, which made it quite a challenge to cover as much as we did in the forty-five minutes of screen time, but David Spenser’s gentle, delicate direction gave a wonderful lyrical touch to the story, especially in his treatment of the warmer, more private moments of this immensely talented writer’s life. The contributions from Sir Angus’s old housekeeper, Mrs Revens, and especially from his long-time friend Tony Garrett, were movingly portrayed, to provide a documentary film of great historical and literary interest.
Both David and I found it a richly rewarding experience to work on a project about such a truly great writer.