Quentin Crisp: The Profession of Being


When Quentin first started doing his one-man shows in the mid 1970s, he would introduce them as “a straight talk from a bent speaker!” 1 When someone objected to this phrase he introduced his next show thus – “I have been forbidden to introduce this evening as a straight talk from a bent speaker!” 2I think I would introduce this book as “A straight talk about a bent speaker.”

Like most people of my generation I first became aware of Mr. Crisp with the televising of his autobiography The Naked Civil Servant. I was still in high school at the time but I do not think any other film has ever had the impact on my life that this had. Here was one of the most extraordinary human beings I had ever seen. A man of such integrity, intelligence, courage and humanity that he became for me a representative of the best that a human being could be, a true life hero. Over the succeeding decades as I followed his life and read as many of his books as I could (though it would be many years before some of his other books would be available to me) I started to realise that his greatest attribute was his philosophy, which was profound and unique. His was a “real-life” philosophy, and he actually lived by it. It is his greatest legacy to the world. His philosophy has become known as Crisperanto, a phrase which Quentin himself first used in the American edition of his second autobiography How to Become a Virgin.

When at the end of 1999 I heard of his death I was shocked and saddened, even though he was almost ninety-one years old. After the initial shock I felt I wanted to try to keep his memory and legacy alive, and also to try to enlighten those who might not know about him. I am a web developer and was aware that there were only a few web sites about Mr Crisp. So I decided to develop one. I called it www.quentincrisp.info because I wished it to be first and foremost an information resource about Quentin. The site was launched in early 2000, and since then I have been contacted by many people who have told me how much they have learned about Quentin from it. I have also been contacted by students who have used the site as a resource for their work. Over the succeeding years I have made contact with many of his friends, who have given their own time and support, and many have contributed to the site and now to this book.

This book is a physical extension of my efforts to keep his memory alive and to try to bring the man and his philosophy to more people. In some ways I could say that I have been researching it for most of my life, but really the bulk of it has been done in the last eight years since his death. I began seriously working on it and put the first words on paper in the summer of 2007. Over the next year and a half I re-read his own books and those books which had been written about him; I watched as many of his film performances as I could get my hands on; documentaries made about him, of which there are many; interviews done with him, of which again there are many; liaised with his friends and generally immersed myself in all things Quentin. I am very fortunate in that I have an incredibly understanding and supportive wife. I must also mention my sister who had throughout been correcting my appalling spelling and seeming inability to spot a split infinitive. Quentin said he would rather go without mascara than split an infinitive; so I must hang my head in shame. Anyway the result of all this time and effort and more is the book you are holding in your hands right now.

No book could possibly tell you everything about this extraordinary man; rather it will, I hope, engage your interest and make you want to learn more. It is for you to judge if I have succeeded in doing so and if it has all been worthwhile. For me it has been an enriching and rewarding experience and has re-enforced for me how Quentin’s philosophy can have such a positive influence on someone’s life.

I did not know when I started writing that by the time my book would be finished a second film biography of Quentin (titled An Englishman in New York), with John Hurt starring again as Quentin, would be finished and have its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on 7th February 2009. Since that date it has premiered at many film festivals throughout the world. It had its American television debut on October 18, 2009 and on British television at the end of December 2009. By then John Hurt had already won the first of what I am sure will be many best actor awards for his performance. So if you want to know more about Quentin watch out for this, it is a must-see.

I have also listed many books, films and web references in this book that you can check out.

Lastly if you are feeling altruistic you can pass it on to someone else. You might just be giving them something special.