The book started life as a radio interview with Crisp in 1964 conducted by his friend and fellow eccentric, Philip O'Connor, which was heard by the then managing director of Jonathan Cape commissioned by him and was published in 1968. It only sold 3500 copies when first released but became a success after a re-publication once the television version was shown.
The book contains many anecdotes about Crisp's life from childhood through to middle age. It documents the troubles he faces because of his refusal to hide his homosexuality and flamboyant lifestyle during a time when homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom. Crisp also recalls how he had many jobs including a book designer, nude model and prostitute.
In 1975 the TV movie was produced by Thames Television for the British Television channel ITV. It was 90 minutes long with John Hurt playing Crisp from youth to middle age. It was directed by Jack Gold, written by Philip Mackie and produced by Verity Lambert, and was originally transmitted on December 17 1975. In 1976 it was shown on US television channel WOR-TV and later PBS when Thames Television and WOR-TV exchanged programming for one week.
For his performance, Hurt won the BAFTA for Best Actor in 1976. The production also won the 1976 Prix Italia and in 2000 it was placed fourth in a poll by industry professionals to find the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century. The adaptation has been available on DVD since 2005.
John Hurt will reprise the role of Quentin Crisp in An Englishman in New York, which will cover the latter years of Crisp's life in New York.