I just heard on the radio that May 12th is National Diary Day, or National Dairy Day as it always comes out in my emails. It was with rather a shock that I calculated that I’ve been a regular diarist for over fifty years. Monty Python hadn’t been heard of when I made my decision to give up smoking and keep a diary instead.
I wavered a bit on the smoking front. Five years after I’d ‘given up’, I found myself one of Three Men In A Boat, spending a lot of time in the middle of the Thames with two generous smokers – Tim Curry and the late great Stephen Moore – as we waited for Stephen Frears to make up his mind what he wanted us to do next. A regular visitor to the set was our screen-play writer Tom, now Sir Tom Stoppard who tempted us with very long, very smart, ciggies which looked irresistibly sophisticated. I was soon on ten a day and was saved by a severe cough, which frightened the ducks off and reminded me why I’d given up in the first place.
Though I have not spent a night away from home since February last year I’ve done more travelling on television than for a very long time thanks to the recent Travels of A Lifetime series and re-runs of the original series on BBC Four. I‘m not that keen on watching myself on screen – I always see the mistakes – but I’ve been reminded how much of the appeal of my travel shows lies is in the professionalism of those I worked with, and particularly the superb camera work of Nigel Meakin. Whilst I was waffling away he was building up a visual scrapbook of each location which in these stay-at-home days reminds us what a rich, exciting and exotic world is still out there.
I always thought it was odd that the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919, when more people died across the globe than in all the battles of World War One, was almost perversely ignored by the writers of the time. Hardly a mention from the likes of Hemingway, or Scott Fitzgerald.
I’d love to have known how they got through it. How close it came to them, how scared they were of the future. So to all of you who may be encouraged to start a diary on National Diary Day, stick with it. Make it National Diary week, or National Diary Year, and the next thing you know you’ll be celebrating National Diary Half Century. And a word of warning – to all those of you getting out pails and butter churns tomorrow, check the spelling.