Little Portia by Simon Gray

Three things that go together for me.

Little Portia
Ken Loach’s early work on the working class in England
The dining scene from Carry on Up the Khyber

In their way they are all about that reserve of the English, the complete incapacity to demonstrate emotion which is such a strength and weakness.

Little Portia sits in the middle, between the comedic scene where Sid James and his guests maintain standards whilst their dining room is being bombarded and the heartwrenching attempts of the British working class to escape their exploitation by those who live off them. It is is an easily read tale of Cambridge youth which hovers between smiling and sad, never tipping the balance in favour of one or the other.

Gray is one of those writers we don’t read today because he is from that period the treatment of which I keep complaining, the one that is old-fashioned, too close to ‘now’, whenever ‘now’ is. People read ‘now’ or a long distance from ‘now’ whilst misguidedly ignoring wonderful work because it is the wrong vintage. What a shame. Wouldn’t we give Gray a chance simply because Pinter thought so much of him?

Speaking of whom, I like this story:

One famous theatre story has it that Pinter, the master of minimalism, wrote a poem about cricket. It read, in its entirety: “I saw Len Hutton in his prime; another time, another time.”

This gem was circulated to friends and after a few weeks Pinter, hurt that he had not heard from Gray, telephoned him. “Have you got my poem? What do you think of it?” he inquired. “Er, yes, Harold. I haven’t finished reading it,” Gray replied.

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