When Did You Last See My Mother?
by Christopher Hampton

BBC Third Programme

Broadcast: Thursday 4th May 1967

"When Did You Last See My Mother?" is about two uncomfortable young men sharing a flat as one resists the advances of the other, who is gay. Enter Mother!

The place is a faded but spacious bed-sitting room in Earl's Court. Apart from two small divan beds set separately against different walls, the furniture is cumbersome, old-fashioned, and ugly - and there's far too much of it. The room is hopelessly untidy. Books, shoes, and several empty bottles litter the floor adding to the general air of scruffiness and constriction. A televison, a small transistor radio, and surprisingly a telephone provide the only concessions to gracious living. It is very late. The thick, velvet curtains, relics of another era, are drawn and a single bottle lamp on the mantlepiece sheds a dim light upon the two occupants of the room. Jimmy, fair and handsome in a petulant sort of way, is standing hands in pockets in front of the gas fire. Ian, plain, wearing glasses with lank and unmanagable hair, is slumped into the one comfortable armchair. Both are in their late teens and both are rather drunk. They are in the middle of a violent quarrel. For a moment, there is a short, poisoness silence. Then Ian speaks...

Christopher Hampton was born in the Azores in 1946. He wrote his first play, "When Did You Last See My Mother?" at the age of eighteen in 1964 and managed to have it on stage by 1966 where it was first performed at Royal Court Theatre, London. Quite apart from dealing with homosexual desires at a time when such things still shocked, it displayed wit, unflashy intelligence and emotional sophistication.

With Victor Henry [Ian], Simon Ward [Jimmy], Gwen Watford [Mrs. Evans], Kit Williams [Dennis], Frances Jeater [Linda], Ian Thompson [The T.V. Voice], and Dennis McCarthy [The Narrator].

Note: This is the same cast as in stage theatre production.

Music Used: String Sextet No. 1 in B Flat, Op. 18. Philips Brahms AL 3599 Second Movement (2'49") Members of the Philharmonic Octet, Berlin.

Directed by Archie Campbell

Re-broadcast on Friday 14th May 1982 @ 8:00 p.m. on BBC Radio 4: The Monday Play

90 min.


How it All Started:

On a frosty Oxford morning, in the early spring of 1966, a New College porter crossed the main quad and unwittingly set in motion one of the most extraordinary debuts in modern British theatre. Earlier that term, a lanky undergraduate named Christopher Hampton, who had already earned a reputation on campus as a brilliant student of languages and who would graduate with a first-class honours degree in French and German, had submitted his first play to the annual Oxford University Dramatic Society student festival.

A precocious exploration of the angst and self-laceration of adolescent homosexuality, written when he was only 18, "When Did You Last See My Mother?" had been accepted by OUDS, done decent business and even garnered a favourable review in the Guardian. On the advice of a friend, he had sent the script to Peggy Ramsay, the agent who had chaperoned the careers of such writers as Joe Orton, Robert Bolt and Edward Bond. About a week later, Hampton was pottering around his ground-floor rooms when the doorbell rang.

"I opened the door and there's this porter standing there, telling me that there is a telephone call for me," Hampton remembers. "I immediately thought that someone had died because that was the only time they did this sort of thing. But, needless to say, it was only Peggy, who had browbeaten the poor man into submission over the phone. When I took the call, she said: 'You had better come down to London tomorrow. We have to decide what we are going to do about your play.' "

The next morning, Hampton cut his lectures and went to London, to Ramsay 's rundown office, in a converted brothel off St Martin's Lane. They hit it off almost instantly, the dynamic, overbearing Ramsay finding a favoured son in the intense young playwright, bookish-looking behind his NHS glasses. After treating Hampton to a graphic account of her affair with Ionesco, Ramsay picked up the phone and began to call through her check-list of outlets and venues. At the top was Bill Gaskill, then artistic director of the Royal Court theatre: "She rang up in her very forceful way and said 'You have got to read this play'," Gaskill recalls. "Well, she was rather persuasive and quite formidable, so I did read it. And I liked it very much."

Within three months, the play had progressed to the Royal Court's Theatre Upstairs. A month later it transferred to the Comedy Theatre, propelling the 20-year-old undergraduate into the theatrical history books as the youngest playwright in the modern era to have a production in the West End. To cement Hampton's Wunderkind status, the more delirious notices hailed the play as the most powerful and corrosive to grace any British stage since the war: "I do not care whether Mr Hampton is 18 or 80," gushed the Times, "There are things in his work that would be magnificently moving, beautifully understanding, revealing and compassionate for any age."

The rapidity of his ascent left Hampton bemused, delighted and a little incredulous, as is obvious from his first major interview - with the Daily Mail - conducted on the day after the premiere, when Hampton revealed his ambition to be, one day, the West End's "oldest playwright" and to be accepted into the Académie Francaise. "I was saying all the wrong things in interviews; ie, the first thing that came into my head. So [the publicists] gave me a lady who went round with me. At one stage she gave me a bollocking because she said I didn't seem to realise how extraordinary it all was. And I said, 'What do you mean?' She said: 'People usually struggle for years and write 25 plays before they get this kind of attention.' Peggy had made it so easy."


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