Rutherfurd on Rutherfurd
The Old People's Home
Q. So you started to write a play.
A. I was a devotee of the London theatre which in those years - this was the middle of the seventies - was going through a very exiting and creative period. All kinds of writers, were providing extraordinary work - from Shaffer's Equus, to Edward Bond, Howard Brenton, Simon Gray, Pam Gems; the Roundhouse was operating at Chalk Farm; Caryl Churchill, David Hare and the Joint Stock Company were at the Royal Court; and Steven Berkoff brought out The Fall Of The House Of Usher, Metamorphosis, and East. It was just a wonderful time and I saw almost everything. I'd had this idea for years to write a play about an old people's home. So I went to work, three days a week, in a local authority home in the London Borough of Camden, and the other days of the week I made notes and wrote.
Q. What were the conditions like?
A. The council really did their best, but it wasn't easy for them. You could smell the place fifty paces from the door. I was a care assistant. That meant you did most things, from spending time with the patients, making their beds, dressing, bathing and toileting them, and doing the things that have to be done to bodies when people die.
Q. Did they know you were writing a play?
A. They had no idea.
Q. What sort of people were the residents?
A. A surprising variety. Some were senile, or burned-out schitzophrenics, some were violent, others lovely. It was a dumping ground really, for people waiting to die. Some strange things happened.
Q. How long did you work there?
A. About fifteen months.
Q. Was it an important experience for you personally?
A. The most formative experience of my life. I learned what little I know about human nature there.
Q. What did it teach you?
A. Realism. Compassion.
Q. You wrote your play. Was it performed?
A. Nearly. BBC Radio took quite an interest, but then they passed. About a year later they broadcast a play by someone else which had some striking resemblances, unmistakable really, to my play. Another useful lesson for a budding writer.
Q. Did you hold a grudge?
A. No. The BBC is one of the great civilizing institutions of the world. These things happen.
Q. You wrote more plays.
A. About ten, as far as I recall, for stage or radio.
Q. Did you sell any?
A. An agent who specialised in drama read them, but though she was encouraging, she never managed to place any of them. Finally I ran out of money. It didn't seem I had the talent to be a writer.