Events

Graham Greene International Festival

When the last speaker steps back from the lectern and the delegates file out, a bond is dissolved. There's a sense of partygoers dispersing: some will return next year, but not all. The genie that brought them together – an interest in the work of Graham Greene – returns to its lamp, and the prospect of tomorrow is just a little duller as a result. The end of the Graham Greene International Festival is one of the first signs of autumn in Berkhamsted.

The Festival regularly brings scores of people to the town where they spend money in hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Over the years - this was the 18th such event – the number must run into thousands. The absence of any borough council support makes it all the more remarkable that the Festival continues to thrive. The first annual Graham Greene Lecture was given in October 1997, on the 93rd anniversary of the author’s birth. That seed has grown into a four-day festival, annual except for one hiatus last year.

The variety the Festival offers was maintained this year. It began on Thursday 22 September with a guided walk on Berkhamsted Common, associated with some of Greene’s blackest moments of adolescent misery. After dinner at the Gatsby, there was a screening of The Third Man at the Rex. This was a second-best: Festival director Mike Hill of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust had hoped to show the CBS Television movie version of The Power and the Glory, with Laurence Olivier and George C Scott. But the Carol Reed classic in the country’s most beautiful cinema is no mean experience. Other visual treats punctuated the schedule: two episodes of the 1970s Shades of Greene, and short extracts from The Fugitive by John Ford and St Joan by Otto Preminger.

Talks on Greene’s life and works dominate the Festival schedule, but you don’t need to be an avid Greene reader to enjoy them. Lord Roy Hattersley, one of this year’s main attractions, name-dropped in the best possible taste and sparred happily with some of the more orthodox members of his audience for a talk entitled The Catholic Muse. He filled the Great Hall of Berkhamsted Town Hall, one of three main venues used by the Festival - the others, through the good grace of Berkhamsted School, were the Deans' Hall and the Careers Library. There other speakers addressed such topics as anti-semitism, life in the 20th century’s war zones, great film directors and, throughout, the relationships between men, women and God.

If you’re bookish, you’re catered for. At one point the Festival audience split into eight groups to consider separate Greene novels. There were also book launches and presentations of research. Some of the talks looked austere from their titles and seemed so for their lack of visual aids. Some presenters are, naturally, more earnest than others; on the other hand many of the Festival veterans are wry and amusing. Breaks for refreshments are frequent and there are convivial meals as part of the programme. The beauty of the Festival is that the origin of it all, the author himself, embodied many moods and the Festival faithfully reflects him.

The main picture (and inset) shows Lord Roy Hattersley, former deputy leader of the Labour Party, evoking the Catholic Muse; inset are Caroline Bourget, Graham Greene's daughter, in conversation; Dr Alice Reeve-Tucker, who was drawn to Greene because she was 'fascinated by issues of conversion'; Jean Seberg in St Joan, adapted by Greene - Barbra Streisand failed the audition.

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