Alan Bennett has explained how he guarded his sexuality for much of his career to avoid being pigeonholed as a gay playwright. Bennett, one of Britain's most respected writers, is best known for The History Boys and The Madness of George III. He was in conversation with BBC Four to mark his 80th birthday.

Alan BennettAlan Bennett Turns 80 on Friday

"My objection about people knowing more about one's private life was that I didn't want to be put in a pigeonhole," he told National Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner.

"I didn't want to be labelled as gay and that was it."

He added: "I just wanted to be my own man, as it were."

Bennett's The History Boys was recently voted the nation's favourite play.

He has kept details of his personal life relatively private though in recent years has spoken more regularly about his civil partnership with Rupert Thomas, editor-in-chief of World of Interiors magazine. In 1993, Bennett was at the centre of a mini media-story when it was revealed he was having a relationship with housekeeper Anne Davis,

Once asked by actor Sir Ian McKellen whether he was hetereosexual or homosexual, Bennett famously replied: "That's a bit like asking a man crawling across the Sahara whether he would prefer Perrier or Malvern water."

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Bennett will turn 80 on Friday, with the BBC Four interview set to be broadcast the following day.

"Looking back on your life, the things you remember are the things that you didn't do," Bennett said. "A lot of that will be to do with sex, I suppose."

"It's in my nature to feel somehow that one has missed out. It's my view of my own life except that I've been very, very lucky. I met my partner quite late in life and so the last part of my life is much happier than the first part."

The writer also admitted that he prefers contemporary US writers to English scribes. 

"I'm very ill-read. I know that sounds overmodest but it's quite true," he said. "I like American literature more than I do contemporary English literature. I like Philip Roth, for instance.

"I don't feel any of the people writing in England can tell me very much. That may be unfair."

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