Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess

These articles focus on particular aspects of Anthony Burgess’s life and work, including his biography, novels, music, films, and religious beliefs.

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Burgess’s career as a broadcaster began in 1955, when he wrote and presented a weekly series of educational programmes for Radio Malaya. Although these broadcasts were pre-recorded at a studio in Kuala Lumpur, no scripts or recordings have so far come to light.

Burgess’s first radio interview (with Patricia Brent) was broadcast by the BBC Third Programme on 9 May 1959, shortly after the publication of Beds in the East, the third volume in his Malayan trilogy. From 1960 onwards he contributed to a number of radio programmes, including Woman’s Hour, Children’s Hour and The World of Books. Burgess interviewed Paul Scott and V.S. Naipaul for BBC radio, and was himself interviewed by Peter Duval Smith and Julian Mitchell. A number of his radio talks and features were published in the Listener. His Desert Island Discs interview with Roy Plomley was broadcast on 28 November 1966.

His earliest television appearance dates from 1962, when the BBC’s Tonight programme presented a dramatized extract from A Clockwork Orange. In 1963 he appeared, with Mario Praz, in a BBC documentary titled Sex in Literature, directed by Christopher Burstall. Burgess and his first wife Lynne were filmed at their home in Etchingham, Sussex, and he read a scene describing a honeymoon in Rome from his novel, Inside Mr Enderby.

In 1965 he travelled to Dublin to make a BBC television documentary about the life and work of James Joyce. This was broadcast on 20 April 1965 under the title Silence, Exile and Cunning. This was part of the Monitor series, edited by Jonathan Miller and Huw Weldon. Burgess also appeared on a literary quiz show, Take It or Leave It, chaired by Robert Robinson, in which a panel of famous writers was asked to guess the author of famous passages from literature.

In 1971 Burgess was the subject of a BBC documentary, Anthony Burgess in Rome, directed by Nigel Williams, who went on to become a famous novelist. Burgess was filmed with his second wife Liana and their son, Paolo Andrea, walking around Bracciano and in cafés and at other locations around the shore of the lake.

Moses the Lawgiver, an epic TV mini-series written by Burgess and starring Burt Lancaster as Moses, was broadcast in 1975. The director was Gianfranco di Bosio, and the producer was Sir Lew Grade, a former music-hall dancer who became the chairman of the ITC television company.

Jesus of Nazareth, written by Burgess, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and featuring Robert Powell as Jesus, was broadcast in April 1977. Lew Grade, who had by this time been elevated to the peerage, was once again the producer. Burgess’s working titles for his novel based on this TV series were ‘Christ the Tiger’ and ‘Jesus Christ and the Love Game’. The novel was eventually published as Man of Nazareth in 1979.

In May 1977 Burgess completed his James Bond film-script, The Spy Who Loved Me, commissioned and subsequently rejected by Albert R. Broccoli. Other unproduced film scripts include ‘Blasts from the Smallest Room’ (based on the first two Enderby novels), ‘The Black Prince’, ‘The Sexual Habits of the English Middle Class’, ‘Attila’, ‘Transvaal Episode’ (from the novel by Harry Bloom), ‘Samson and Dalila’ and ‘Eternal Life’, adapted from the French novel by Jacques Attali.

Grace Under Pressure, Burgess’s TV film about Ernest Hemingway, was broadcast by ITV in 1978, coinciding with the publication of Burgess’s illustrated biography of Hemingway.

In 1980 he returned to Malaysia with the director David Wallace to make another TV film, A Kind of Failure, in which he reflected on how Malaysia had developed since his departure in 1957. The programme was broadcast on 15 January 1981.

Blooms of Dublin, Burgess’s musical play based on James Joyce’s Ulysses, was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and RTE (the Irish state broadcaster) on 2 February 1982, to mark the centenary of Joyce’s birth. In the same year Burgess made a documentary about James Joyce and Igor Stravinsky, Make It New, for Swedish television.

In 1985 he made a TV documentary, The Rage of D.H. Lawrence, directed by Jill Freeman, to coincide with the publication of Flame Into Being, his critical book about Lawrence. Burgess’s musical settings of four poems by Lawrence were performed in Nottingham in the same year.

Kevin Jackson’s television documentary Burgess at Seventy, filmed on location in Venice, was broadcast in February 1987. Jackson went on to write a two-part documentary, The Burgess Variations, produced and directed by David Thompson, broadcast in December 1999.

In 1989 Burgess wrote a radio adaptation of St Winefred’s Well, an unfinished play by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The play was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, with new dialogue and incidental music by Burgess, on 23 December 1989.

Among the many TV interviews with Burgess, one of the most revealing is his Face to Face interview with Jeremy Isaacs, first broadcast on BBC2 on 21 March 1989. The full programme may be viewed on the BBC website.

Homage to AB, William Boyd’s radio play about Burgess’s life and music, was broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland on 21 August 1994, with John Sessions playing the parts of Burgess and Enderby.

Inside Mr Enderby, performed by Robert Stephens and adapted for radio by David Benedictus, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as A Book at Bedtime in December 1995.

Kevin Jackson’s two-part TV documentary The Burgess Variations, featuring archive footage and new interviews with witnesses such as A.S. Byatt, William Boyd and Liana Burgess, was broadcast on BBC2 on 26 and 27 December 1999.

In 2023 a new documentary, titled L’Orange Mécanique: Les Rouages de la Violence, was broadcast in France, Germany and Spain on the Arte channel. The co-directors were Benoit Felici and Elisa Mantin, who had previously made another programme about Burgess for French television in 1997.