The revelation comes in his new autobiography, "Untold Stories," which will be published by Faber in Europe in early October. Picador will publish the tome in the U.S. in 2006, to coincide with the opening of Bennett’s The History Boys on Broadway. A report in The Independent newspaper quotes Bennett writing, “Cancer, like any other illness, is a bore.” However, he also reveals that doctors gave him an approximate 20 percent chance of survival.
Arts figures including Melvyn Bragg, who recently finished making a television documentary about Bennett, professed themselves shocked. “I knew he had cancer, yes, but I had no idea how serious it was. I didn’t know that it had been life-threatening,” Bragg told the Independent.
The battle with the disease led to the relative drought in script-writing that Bennett experienced before bouncing back with the tremendously successful The History Boys, which won awards and full houses at the National and has led to a movie version. Now 71, Bennett insists in the book that “I did not see cancer as a way of dramatizing my life.” Ever-quick with a wry observation, though, Bennett does note in the volume that (decidedly thin-on-top) actor Alec Guinness was “surprised and even disappointed” that chemotherapy did not thin Bennett's hair.