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West Hampstead playwright tells of ‘terror of death’ as he turns 85

PUBLISHED: 12:01 16 November 2011

Jewish writer Bernard Kops celebrates his 85th birthday this month. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Jewish writer Bernard Kops celebrates his 85th birthday this month. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Pic by Nigel Sutton 17 Redington Rd London NW3 7QX Tel 020 7794 3008 email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

An eminent West Hampstead playwright and author has spoken of a lifetime living on the edge, as he turns 85.

Bernard Kops, who has lived in Canfield Gardens for nearly 50 years, has produced numerous successful plays, novels and poetry, and shows no signs of stopping.

His latest novel, The Odyssey of Samuel Glass, the story of a boy searching for his identity, is due out in April and he has numerous other projects planned.

Behind this is a burning passion for life and for writing which has accelerated with age.

“I have an absolute terror of being dead,” said the playwright. “I can’t bear having to leave everything I know and love and need, like my family and my work.”

He says his writing is “like a fever” which never abates.

Having completed 40 plays, nine novels and seven books of poetry, the Jewish writer who grew up in poverty in the East End, remains full of ideas.

Being a writer is a vocation demanding creativity and destructiveness, empathy and compulsion, he said.

“In order to touch people you have to be touched,” he said. “You cant fake a poem.

“In life you are constantly confronting a crisis and you’ve got to learn to love your crisis.

“I’m dead scared, but I like being scared because it brings out an authenticity in you.”

In the past Mr Kops reached rock bottom with drugs and suicidal thoughts, but recovered due to the love of his family.

His daily routine of the last 30 years involves walking on Hampstead Heath and eating at the Garden Cafe, in West Hampstead.

Despite his success he claims he is “still a street person” and derives immense pleasure from the West Hampstead vibe.

He and his wife Erica chose the area because of its vibrancy and its strong Jewish and intellectual culture.
“There was so many Polish shops and Yiddish spoken on the streets, and the Cosmo cafe where all the writers used to meet,” he said. “It’s a lovely area. Very cosmopolitan to this day.”

Nowadays Mr Kops remains most proud of his work with young and aspiring writers, or those on the fringes of society.

After visiting Wormwood Scrubs prison he found that of “all these people who are lost, most of them had a kind of talent.”

He also runs writing workshops helping young people in the East End.

“I always feel that people can change,” he said. “When I was young nobody would give a tuppence for my chances. I had no career and no education but I ended up doing well.”

The Jewish Museum in Camden will celebrate the playwright’s 85th birthday by staging his first play from 1957, The Hamlet of Stepney Green, on Sunday, November 27.

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