Five Fascinating Facts about… Anthony Burgess

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Compiled by Annabel

Researching Burgess for this article, I found so many nuggets, I could easily have compiled a list of fifty facts – or even more! It was difficult to restrict it to just five, but I have managed that by picking those that particularly appealed to me! For a more serious take on the work of Burgess in this centenary year, do visit Rob’s Burgess Reading List here. Now for those facts:

1. Burgess’s 1966 novel Tremor of Intent is a response to the spy fiction of Ian Fleming and John Le Carré. Burgess reportedly thought of James Bond as an imperialist relic [1]. Set during the Cold War, Tremor of Intent shows MI6 Agent Hillier travelling to Russia to extract a defected Brit and infiltrate a Soviet science conference. The novel is subtitled “An Eschatological Spy Novel” – eschatology being the branch of theology that looks at death and judgement. The main title apparently came from a comment made by his wife upon seeing a hungover Burgess with the DTs!

2. Burgess was evidently fixated on James Bond, though. He submitted a screenplay for The Spy Who Loved Me but it was rejected. [2]  In Ben Macintyre’s book on Fleming and Bond, he is quoted as saying of Bond girls [3]:

the girls in the Bond films tend…to be nothing more than animated centrefolds. In the books they are credible and lovable because of some humanising flaw.

3. Burgess himself composed a score for a stage version of A Clockwork Orange in 1982, but the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a new version in 1990, adapted by Ron Daniel, with music by Bono and The Edge from U2. In an Interview on U2’s website, Edge said of the project [4]:

RSC Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess didn’t seem to like the score that we wrote for Clockwork Orange, nor did he like the production itself. I don’t know — he’s very old, it would have worried me more if he had liked it. He’s written 17 symphonies, you know — no one has heard them but he says they are brilliant.

The play got panned by the critics too, although its star, Phil Daniels as Alex, was applauded. Tickets however, were like golddust, but thanks to being an RSC member back then, I went. I remember being visually stunned by the whole thing and rather enjoying it. There was no doubting Phil Daniels’s star quality though.

4. Nothing Like the Sun, the title of Burgess’s fictional biography of Shakespeare is taken from Sonnet 130’s opening line:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Burgess Dead Man in Deptford

5. The last work published in Burgess’s lifetime was his companion volume to Nothing Like the Sun – his fictional biography of Christopher Marlowe, A Dead Man in Deptford. At Burgess’s memorial service in 1994, novelist William Boyd gave one of the eulogies. He said [5]:

Anthony’s last novel is one of his best. His imagined life of Christopher Marlowe is as dense, inventive and pyrotechnical as his imagined life of Shakespeare was thirty years earlier: as humane, wry and fiercely intelligent as everything he wrote. … As the last line on the last page of his last novel says: ‘That inimitable voice sings on.’ 


[2] – see section on screenwriting.
[3] Ben Macintyre – For your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond, p147. (Bloomsbury, 2008)
[5] Well-remembered Friends: Eulogies on Celebrated Lives, collected by Angela Huth. (John Murray, 2004)

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Annabel is one of the Shiny Editors.

Read Rob Spence’s reading guide on Anthony Burgess here.

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