See his Complete Poems (1988, rev. ed. 2004); A. Thwaite, ed., Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940-1985 (1992); memoir by M. Brennan (2002); biography by A. Motion (1993); studies by L. Kuby (1974), T. Whalen (1986), R. Day (1987), L. Cookson and B. Loughrey, ed. (1989), D. Salwak, ed. (1989), J. Booth (1992), A. Swarbrick (1995), S. Regan, ed. (1997), and J. Booth, ed. (2000).
(born Aug. 9, 1922, Coventry, Warwickshire, Eng.—died Dec. 2, 1985, Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire) English poet. Educated at Oxford, Larkin became a librarian at the University of Hull, Yorkshire, in 1955; he would remain a librarian the rest of his life. He wrote two novels before becoming well known with his third volume of verse, The Less Deceived (1955), which expressed the antiromantic sensibility prevalent in English verse of his time. Later poetry volumes are The Whitsun Weddings (1964), High Windows (1974), and Aubade (1980). All What Jazz (1970) contains essays he wrote as a jazz critic for The Daily Telegraph (1961–71).
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Philip Arthur Larkin, CH, CBE, FRSL (9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985), was an English poet, novelist and jazz critic. He spent his working life as a university librarian and was offered the Poet Laureateship following the death of John Betjeman, but declined the post. Larkin is commonly regarded as one of the greatest English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century. He first came to prominence with the publication in 1955 of his second collection, The Less Deceived. The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows followed in 1964 and 1974. In 2003 Larkin was chosen as "the nation's best-loved poet" in a survey by the Poetry Book Society, and in 2008 The Times named Larkin as the greatest post-war writer.
Larkin was born in the city of Coventry, West Midlands, England. From 1930 to 1940 he was educated at King Henry VIII School in Coventry, and in October 1940, in the midst of the Second World War, went up to St John's College, Oxford, to read English language and literature. Having been rejected for military service because of his poor eyesight, he was able, unlike many of his contemporaries, to follow the traditional full-length degree course, taking a first-class degree in 1943. Whilst at Oxford he met Kingsley Amis, who would become a lifelong friend and frequent correspondent. Shortly after graduating he was appointed municipal librarian at Wellington, Shropshire. In 1946, he became assistant librarian at University College, Leicester, and in 1950 sub-librarian at Queen's University, Belfast. In March 1955, Larkin was appointed librarian at the University of Hull, a position he retained until his death.
Philip Larkin was born on 9 August 1922 in Coventry, West Midlands, the only son and younger child of Sydney Larkin (1884–1948), who came from Lichfield, and his wife, Eva Emily Day (1886–1977) of Epping. He lived with his family in Radford, Coventry, until he was five years old. From 1927 to 1945 the family home was 1 Manor Road, a large three-story detached house near the city centre that was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Coventry ring road. His sister Catherine, known as Kitty, was about 10 years older than himself. His father, a self-made man who had risen to be Coventry City Treasurer, was a singular individual who combined a love of literature with an enthusiasm for Nazism, and had attended two Nuremberg rallies during the mid-30s. He introduced his son to the works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Joyce and above all D. H. Lawrence. His mother, Eva, was a nervous passive woman, dominated by her husband.
Larkin's childhood was at first unusual: neither friends nor relatives ever visited the family home and he was educated by his mother and elder sister until the age of eight. Despite this, and the stammer he had already developed, when he joined Coventry’s King Henry VIII Junior School he fitted in immediately and made close, long-standing friendships with James "Jim" Sutton, Colin Gunner and Noel "Josh" Hughes. Although home life was relatively cold, Larkin enjoyed support from his parents. For example, his deep passion for jazz was supported by purchases of a drum kit and a saxophone, supplemented with a subscription for Down Beat, the first of Larkin’s many jazz magazines. From the junior school he progressed on to King Henry VIII School senior school, and at the age of 16 Larkin fared relatively poorly when he sat his School Certificate exam. However, he was allowed to stay on at school and two years later earned distinctions in English and History, and passed the entrance exams for St John’s College, Oxford, to read English.
Larkin commenced at Oxford University in October 1940, a year after the outbreak of World War II. The Brideshead Revisited image had been put on hold, and most of the male students were studying for highly truncated degrees. Larkin himself failed his military medical, thanks to his poor eyesight, and was able to study for the full three years. Through his tutorial partner, Norman Iles, he met Kingsley Amis. Amis remained a close friend of Larkin throughout his life and encouraged his taste for ridicule and irreverence. Amis, Larkin and other university friends formed a group they titled “The Seven”. They met to discuss each others' poetry, to listen to jazz, and to drink enthusiastically. During this time he had his first real social interaction with the opposite sex, but made no romantic headway. In 1943 he sat his finals, and, having dedicated much of his time to his own writing, was greatly surprised at his being awarded a first-class degree.
In autumn 1943 Larkin was appointed librarian of the public library in Wellington, Shropshire. While working there, in the spring of 1944 he met his first girlfriend, Ruth Bowman, an academically ambitious 16-year-old schoolgirl. In autumn 1945, Ruth's studies at King’s College, London, began, and during his visits to her there the couple started sexual relations. By June 1946, Larkin was halfway through qualifying for membership of the Library Association and was appointed sub-librarian of University College, Leicester. It was while visiting Larkin in Leicester and witnessing the Senior Common Room that Kingsley Amis found the inspiration to write Lucky Jim. Six weeks after his father's death from cancer in March 1948, Larkin proposed to Ruth, and that summer the couple spent their annual holiday touring Hardy country.
In June 1950 Larkin was appointed sub-librarian of Queen’s University, Belfast, a post he took up that September. Prior to his departure he and Ruth split up. At some stage between his appointment to Queen’s and the calling off of the engagement, his relationship with Monica Jones, a lecturer in English at Leicester, became sexual. He spent five years in Belfast, which appear to have been the most contented of his life. While his relationship with Monica Jones developed, he also had a sexually adventurous affair with Patsy Strang, who at the time was in an open marriage with one of his colleagues. At one stage she offered to leave her husband to marry Larkin. From summer 1951 onwards Larkin would holiday with Monica in various locations around the British Isles. While in Belfast he also had a significant, though sexually undeveloped friendship with Winifred Arnott, the subject of "Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album". This came to a close when she married in 1954. Also during this period he gave Kingsley Amis extensive advice while the latter was writing Lucky Jim.
In 1955 Larkin was appointed Librarian at Hull University, a post he would hold until his death. For his first year he lodged in bedsits and then in 1956, at the age of 34, he for the first time rented a self-contained dwelling, a top-floor flat overlooking Hull's Pearson Park. This vantage point was later commemorated in the poem "High Windows". In the post-war years Hull University underwent an enormous expansion typical of the period. During the first 15 years of Larkin's time there, he was deeply involved throughout the creation of a new and thoroughly modern library that was built in two stages, and from 1967 named Brynmor Jones Library. From 1957 until his death his secretary was Betty Mackereth. All access to him by his colleagues was through her and she came to know as much about Larkin's compartmentalised life as anyone.
In February 1961 Larkin's friendship with his colleague Maeve Brennan became romantic, despite her strong Roman Catholic beliefs. In spring 1963 Maeve persuaded him to attend a SCR dance with her, despite his preference for smaller gatherings. This seems to have been a pivotal occasion in their relationship, one which he memorialised in his longest and unfinished poem "The Dance". Also at her prompting and around this time Larkin learnt to drive and bought a car. Around this time Monica Jones, whose parents had died in quick succession in autumn 1959, bought a holiday cottage in Haydon Bridge, near Hexham, which she and Larkin visited regularly. His notable poem "Show Saturday" is a description of the 1973 Bellingham show in the North Tyne valley.
In 1964, in the aftermath of the release of The Whitsun Weddings, Larkin was the subject of an episode of the arts programme Monitor. In its form of a series of interviews with John Betjeman in and around Hull, it was largely responsible for the creation of Larkin's public persona.
The second, and much larger stage of Hull University's new Brynmor Jones Library was completed in 1969. Larkin had had an important role in its coming into existence. In October 1970 he was able to start work on compiling a new anthology, The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse. He had been awarded a Visiting Fellowship at All Souls' College, Oxford for two academic terms, which allowed him to consult Oxford's Bodleian Library, a copyright library. Larkin was a major contributor to the re-evaluation of the poetry of Thomas Hardy, which in comparison to his work as a novelist had been ignored; in Larkin's ‘idiosyncratic’ and ‘controversial’ anthology, Hardy received the longest selection.
In 1971 he began corresponding with his schoolfriend Colin Gunner, who had led a picaresque life. In the period 1973 to 1974 he was made an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, and awarded honorary degrees by Warwick, St Andrews and Sussex universities. In January 1974 Hull University informed Larkin that they were going to dispose of the building on Pearson Park in which he lived. Shortly afterwards he bought a detached house in a thoroughly suburban street called “Newland Park” and moved in.
Shortly after splitting up with Maeve Brennan in August 1973, Larkin attended W. H. Auden's memorial service at Christ Church, Oxford, with Monica as his official partner. However, in March 1975 the relationship with Maeve restarted, and three weeks after this he started a secret affair with his secretary Betty Mackereth, writing the long-undiscovered poem "We met at the end of the party" for her. Despite the logistical difficulties in having three relationships simultaneously, the situation continued until March 1978. From that moment on he and Monica were a monogamous couple. Five years later, in 1983, Monica was hospitalised owing to shingles, and the severity of her symptoms including the effects of shingles on her eyes distressed Larkin. Regular care became necessary with general decline in her health, so within a month she moved into his Newland Park home and remained there for the rest of her life.
In February 1982 Larkin turned sixty. This was marked most significantly by a collection of essays entitled Larkin at Sixty, edited by Anthony Thwaite and published by Faber and Faber. There were also two television programmes: a South Bank Show presented by Melvyn Bragg—to which Larkin made off-camera contributions—and a half-hour special on the BBC, devised and presented by the Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister Roy Hattersley.
At the memorial service for John Betjeman, who died in July 1984, Larkin was asked if he would accept the post of Poet Laureate; he declined, not least because he had long ceased to write poetry in a manner he regarded as meaningful. The following year Larkin began to suffer from oesophageal cancer and, on 11 June 1985, underwent exploratory surgery. His cancer was found to have spread and was inoperable. On 28 November he collapsed and was readmitted to hospital. He died four days later, on 2 December 1985, at the age of 63, and was buried at the Cottingham Municipal Cemetery near Hull. His gravestone reads simply “Philip Larkin, Writer”.
On his deathbed Larkin had requested explicitly that his diaries be destroyed. This request was granted by Monica Jones and Betty Mackereth: the diaries were shredded page by page and then burnt. On the subject of his other private papers and unpublished writings his will was found to be contradictory. Legal advice from a Q.C. left the issue in the lap of his literary executors, who decided the papers should not be destroyed.
From his mid-teens Larkin “wrote ceaselessly”, producing both poetry, modelled on Eliot and W. H. Auden, and fiction. He wrote five full-length novels, all of which he destroyed shortly after completion. While he was at Oxford University he published a poem for the first time: "Ultimatum" in The Listener. Around this time he developed an alter ego for his prose called Brunette Coleman. Under this name he wrote two novellas Trouble at Willow Gables and Michaelmas Term at St Brides, as well as a supposed autobiography and an equally fictional creative manifesto called “What we are writing for”. Richard Bradford has written that these curious works show “three registers: cautious indifference, archly overwritten symbolism with a hint of Lawrence and prose that appears to disclose its writer’s involuntary feelings of sexual excitement”. After these works Larkin started his first published novel Jill. This was published by Reginald A. Caton, a publisher of barely-legal pornography, who also issued serious fiction as a cover for his core activities.
Around the time that Jill was being prepared for publication, Caton asked Larkin if he wrote poetry as well, which resulted in The North Ship, a collection of poems written between 1942 and 1944 which showed the increasing influence of Yeats that was published three months before Jill. Immediately after completing Jill, Larkin started work on the novel A Girl in Winter, completing it in 1945. It was published in 1947 by Faber & Faber and well received, The Sunday Times calling it “an exquisite performance and nearly faultless”. Subsequently he made at least three extended attempts at writing a third novel, but none got further than a solid start.
It was during Larkin’s five years in Belfast that he reached maturity as a poet. The bulk of his next published collection of poems The Less Deceived was written here, though eight of the twenty-nine poems included were from the late 1940s. It was during this time that he made his final attempts at novel writing, and also gave extensive help to Kingsley Amis with the latter’s first published novel Lucky Jim. In October 1954 an article in The Spectator made the first use of the title The Movement to describe the dominant trend in British post-war literature. Various poems of his were included in a 1953 PEN Anthology that also included poems by Amis and Robert Conquest, and Larkin was seen to be a part of this grouping.
In November 1955 The Less Deceived was published by The Marvell Press, an independent start-up company operating out of Hessle just beyond the west border of Hull. At first the volume attracted little attention, but in December it was included in The Times' list of books of the year. From this point the book's reputation spread and sales blossomed throughout 1956 and 1957. During his first five years in Hull the pressures of work slowed Larkin's output to an average of just two-and-a-half poems a year, but it was during this period that he wrote "An Arundel Tomb", "The Whitsun Weddings" and "Here".
In 1963 Faber & Faber reissued Jill, including a long introduction by Larkin that included much information about his time at Oxford University and his friendship with Kingsley Amis. This acted as prelude to the release the following year of The Whitsun Weddings which confirmed his reputation: almost immediately after its publication he was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature. In the years that followed Larkin wrote several of his most famous and iconic poems, such as "Annus Mirabilis", "High Windows" and "This Be The Verse". In the 1970s Larkin wrote a series of longer and more sober poems: "The Building", "The Old Fools" and "Aubade".
Larkin's final collection High Windows was published in June 1974. Its more direct use of language meant that it did not meet with uniform praise; nonetheless it sold over twenty thousand copies in its first year alone. For some critics it represents a falling-off from his previous two books, yet it contains a number of his much-loved pieces, including "This Be The Verse" and "The Explosion", as well as the title poem. "Annus Mirabilis" (Year of Wonder), also from that volume, contains the frequently quoted observation that sexual intercourse began in 1963 which he claimed was “rather late for me” despite his having first had sexual relations in 1945. Bradford, prompted by comments in Maeve Brennan's memoir, suggests that the poem commemorates Larkin's relationship with Brennan moving from the romantic to the sexual.
Later in 1974 he started work on his final major published poem "Aubade". It was completed in 1977 and published in the 23 December issue of the TLS. Subsequent to "Aubade" Larkin wrote only one poem to have attracted intense critical attention, the unpublished and intensely personal "Love Again".
Although Larkin's earliest work shows in turn the influences of Eliot, Auden and Yeats, the development of his mature poetic identity in the early 1950s coincided with the growing influence on him of Thomas Hardy. He is well-known for his use of colloquial language in his poetry, partly balanced by a similarly antique word choice. With fine use of enjambement and rhyme, his poetry is highly structured, but never rigid. Death and fatalism were recurring themes and subjects of his poetry, his final major poem "Aubade" being an example of this. Larkin specialised in making poetic the trivial, in finding significance in items of everyday commoness.
In 1972 he wrote the oft-quoted "Going, Going", a poem which expresses the romantic fatalism in his view of England which was typical of his later years. In it, he prophesies a complete destruction of the countryside, and expresses an idealised sense of national togetherness and identity: “And that will be England gone ... it will linger on in galleries; but all that remains for us will be concrete and tyres”. The poem ends with the blunt statement, “I just think it will happen, soon”.
Larkin was by contrast a notable critic of modernism in contemporary art and literature; his scepticism is at its most nuanced and illuminating in Required Writing, a collection of his book reviews and essays; and at its most inflamed and polemical in his introduction to his collected jazz reviews, All What Jazz, 126 record-review columns he wrote for the Daily Telegraph between 1961 and 1971, which contains an attack on modern jazz that widens into a wholesale critique of modernism in the arts.
When first published in 1945, The North Ship received just one review, in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, which concluded “Mr Larkin has an inner vision that must be sought for with care. His recondite imagery is couched in phrases that make up in a kind of wistful hinted beauty what they lack in lucidy. Mr Larkin's readers must at present be confined to a small circle. Perhaps his work will gain wider appeal as his genius becomes more mature?” A few years later, though, the poet and critic Charles Madge came across the book and wrote to Larkin with his compliments. When the collection was reissued in 1966 it was presented as a work of juvenilia, and the reviews were gentle and respectful; the most forthright praise came from Elizabeth Jennings in the Spectator: “few will question the instrinsic value of The North Ship or the importance of its being reprinted now. It is good to know that Larkin could write so well when still so young”.
The Less Deceived was first noticed by The Times, who included it in its list of Books of 1955. In its wake many other reviews followed; “most of them concentrated ... on the book's emotional impact and its sophisticated, witty language”. The Spectator felt the collection was “in the running for the best published in this country since the war”; G. S. Fraser, referring to Larkin's perceived association with The Movement felt that Larkin exemplified “everything that is good in this ‘new movement’ and none of its faults”. The TLS called him “a poet of quite exceptional importance” and in June 1956 the Times Educational Supplement was fulsome: “As native as a Whitstable oyster, as sharp an expression of contemporary thought and experience as anything written in our time, as immediate in its appeal as the lyric poetry of an earlier day, it may well be regarded by posterity as a poetic monument that marks the triumph over the formless mystifications of the last twenty years. With Larkin poetry is on its way back to the middlebrow public”. Reviewing the book in America the poet Robert Lowell wrote, “No post-war poetry has so caught the moment, and caught it without straining after its ephemera. It's a hesitant, groping mumble, resolutely experienced, resolutely perfect in its artistic methods”.
In time, though, there was a reaction: David Wright wrote in Encounter that The Less Deceived suffered from the “palsy of playing safe”; in April 1957 Charles Tomlinson wrote a piece for the journal Essays in Criticism, "The Middlebrow Muse", attacking The Movement's poets for their “middle-cum-lowbrowism”, “suburban mental ratio” and “parochialism”—Larkin had a “tenderly nursed sense of defeat”. In 1962 A. Alvarez, the compiler of an anthology entitled The New Poetry, famously accused Larkin of “gentility, neo-Georgian pastoralism, and a failure to deal with the violent extremes of contemporary life”.
When The Whitsun Weddings was released Alvarez continued his attacks in a review in The Observer, complaining of the “drab circumspection” of Larkin's “commonplace” subject-matter. However, praise outweighed criticism. John Betjeman felt Larkin had “closed the gap between poetry and the public which the experiments and obscurity of the last fifty years have done so much to widen”. In the New York Review of Books Christopher Ricks wrote of the “refinement of self-consciousness, usually flawless in its execution” and Larkin's summoning up of “the world of all of us, the place where, in the end, we find our happiness, or not at all”. He felt Larkin to be “the best poet England now has”.
Of the reception of High Windows Richard Bradford writes “the reviews were generally favourable, with the notable exception of Robert Nye in The Times, but each reflected the difficulty of writing a 500–1000-word piece on a collection which, while short, compelled fascination and confusion. The admiration for the volume was genuine for most reviewers, but one also senses anxiety in their prose, particularly on how to describe the individual genius at work in poems such as "Annus Mirabilis", "The Explosion" and "The Building" and at the same time explain why each is so radically different. Nye overcomes this problem by treating the differences as ineffective masks for a consistently nasty presence”.
To celebrate Larkin's 60th birthday in 1982, Faber and Faber published Larkin at Sixty, edited and introduced by Anthony Thwaite. In amongst portraits by friends and colleagues such as Kingsley Amis, Noel Hughes and Charles Monteith and dedicatory poems by John Betjeman, Peter Porter and Gavin Ewart, the various strands of Larkin's output were analysed by critics and fellow poets: Andrew Motion, Christopher Ricks and Seamus Heaney looked at the poems, Alan Brownjohn wrote on the novels and Donald Mitchell and Clive James looked at his jazz criticism.
Two of Larkin's colleagues at Hull University felt that his work as a librarian was in itself worthy of note. Douglas Dunn wrote “Librarianship became a profession through the examples set by notable librarians. Philip Larkin was such a librarian” and Brian Dyson called him “a great figure in post-war British librarianship”. Having started out by running Wellington Public Library single-handed, Larkin soon developed an assurance beyond the norm. His boss at Belfast University, Graneek, said that he had “come increasingly to rely on Larkin's judgement ... I have delegated to him rather larger areas of responsibility than normally falls to the lot of a sub-librarian ... He has the ability to assess a problem, arrive at a decision and act upon it without delay, which is not too common among academic administrators”. When Larkin took up his appointment in Hull the plans for a larger university library—the first to be built since the war—were already far advanced. Larkin made a great effort in just a few months to come to terms with these plans before they were placed before the University Grants Committee; he suggested a number of emendations, some major and structural, all of which were taken on board. The library was completed in 1969; ten years later Larkin took the equally ground-breaking decision to computerise the entire library stock. Richard Goodman has written that “with this step, Hull became the first library in Europe to install a GEAC system”. In a general tone Goodman also wrote “it is as an administrator boss, committee man and arbitrator that Larkin revealed one of his strongest suits as a librarian. He treated his staff decently, and he motivated them. He did this with a combination of efficiency, high standards, humour and compassion. Those who have left written accounts of their time at Hull have said he was an excellent librarian and a very caring boss”. In his article in Larkin at Sixty Barry Bloomfield noted that Larkin “pioneered new techniques and introduced methods which have been copied in other academic libraries in the United Kingdom”. During his thirty years as Librarian the stock sextrupled, and the budget expanded from £4,500 to £448,500.
Larkin's posthumous reputation was deeply affected by the publication in 1992 of Anthony Thwaite's edition of his letters and, the following year, his official biography, Andrew Motion's Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life. These revealed his obsession with pornography, his racism, his increasing shift to the political right wing, and his habitual expressions of venom and spleen. In 1990, for example, Tom Paulin wrote that Larkin's “obscenity is informed by prejudices that are not by any means as ordinary, commonplace, or acceptable as the poetic language in which they are so plainly spelled out”. On the other hand, the revelations have been dismissed by the author and critic Martin Amis (son of Kingsley Amis), who argues that the letters in particular show nothing more than a tendency for Larkin to tailor his words according to the recipient, rather than representing Larkin's true opinions. This idea is developed in Richard Bradford's biography: he compares the style Larkin took in his correspondence with the author Barbara Pym with that he adopted with his old schoolfriend Colin Gunner.
Despite controversy about his personal life and opinions, he remains one of Britain's most popular poets; three of his poems, "This Be The Verse", "The Whitsun Weddings" and "An Arundel Tomb", featured in the Nation's Top 100 Poems as voted for by viewers of the BBC's Bookworm in 1995. Media interest in Larkin has increased in the twenty-first century. His poem "At Grass" is featured in one Anthology booklet of the GCSE English exam. Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings collection is one of the available poetry texts in the AQA English Literature A Level syllabus, whilst High Windows is offered by the OCR board, and "An Arundel Tomb" in the Edexcel board Poetry Anthology. The Larkin Society was formed in 1995, ten years after the poet's death; its president is Anthony Thwaite, one of Larkin's literary executors.
A pamphlet of Larkin's most famous work was included with the Guardian newspaper of 14 March 2008. Andrew Motion contributed the foreword to the booklet.
In 1964 Larkin was interviewed by Sir John Betjeman for the BBC programme Monitor: Philip Larkin meets John Betjeman. The film, together with the original rushes, is stored at the Larkin archive at the University of Hull and was most recently broadcast on BBC Four.
Larkin was the subject of The South Bank Show in 1982. Larkin did not appear on camera although Melvyn Bragg, in his introduction to the programme, stressed the poet had given his full cooperation. The programme featured contributions from Kingsley Amis, Andrew Motion and Alan Bennett. Bennett read several of Larkin's works on an edition of "Poetry in Motion", broadcast by Channel 4 in 1990.
After lying undiscovered in a Hornsea garage for over two decades, an unprecedented collection of Larkin audio tapes was found in 2006. The recordings were made by the poet in the early 1980s. Extracts can be heard during a Sky News report. His poetry-speaking voice was very different from his normal voice, which he described as 'halfway between the of drawl of Leicester and the laziness of Birmingham'. A programme examining the discovery in more depth, The Larkin Tapes, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in March 2008.
In 1999, Oliver Ford Davies starred in Ben Brown's play Larkin With Women at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, reprising his role at the Orange Tree Theatre, London, in 2006. The play was published by Larkin's own publishers, Faber. Three years later Sir Tom Courtenay debuted his one-man play Pretending to Be Me at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, later transferring the production to the Comedy Theatre in London's West End. An audio recording of the play, which is based on Larkin's letters, interviews, diaries and verse, was released in 2005.
In 2003, BBC Two broadcast a play Love Again—its title also that of one of Larkin's most painfully personal poems—dealing with the last thirty years of Larkin's life (though not shot anywhere near Hull). The lead role was played by Hugh Bonneville, and in the same year Channel 4 broadcast the documentary Philip Larkin, Love and Death in Hull.
The writer and critic David Quantick parodied Larkin's poem An Arundel Tomb during his comedy programme One again on BBC Radio 4 in the same month, with the poet peppering his work with references to guns and other weaponry. In the sketch, Larkin answers the telephone to Kingsley Amis and agrees to meet his friend in the pub later.
In his acclaimed play The History Boys (2004) Alan Bennett quotes from Larkin's "MCMXIV" and the character of the Headmaster, a geography graduate from Hull, refers to Larkin as 'the Himmler of the accessions desk'.
In 1957 his friend Robert Conquest, of the group known as The Movement, played a practical joke on him. The story was the subject of the comedy radio play by Chris Harrald, Mr Larkin's Awkward Day, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 29 April 2008. It tells the true story of the joke that had Larkin fearing he might be sent to prison. In September 1957, a pre-fame Larkin prepares for another ordinary day and picks up his post. But one letter stands out: an official-looking envelope embossed with the words Scotland Yard. The letter reveals that there is an ongoing investigation into him, conducted under the Obscene Publications Act 1921. The letter informs Larkin that he might have to appear in court since it is alleged he has been buying pornography—and he knows all too well that he has. Larkin begins to fret about what to do—should he destroy the evidence under the gaze of a watchful landlady before the police arrive?
Eventually, he goes to his librarian job. As he leaves the library he freezes when Inspector Cough introduces himself and says that he is very interested in Larkin's literary tastes. Larkin begins to defend himself until it transpires that the men have crossed wires—one fears he is being quizzed about purchasing dubious magazines, the other thinks he is having a friendly chat about literature. Finally, Larkin prises himself free from the Inspector to dash off to a meeting with his solicitors, who ask him what journals he has been buying. After he returns to his lodgings his landlady knocks on Larkin's door—someone wants him on the phone. It's Larkin's historian friend, Bob Conquest, and he is laughing. He asks Larkin about the silly joke he played on him, the embossed envelope and so on. When it becomes clear that Larkin was completely taken in, Conquest offers to pay his solicitors' costs.