IT is now 60 years since Alan Bennett first performed, as part of Beyond the Fringe in Edinburgh alongside Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Jonathan Miller. August 1960, Harold MacMillan was Prime Minister. JFK had not yet been elected. The Beatles were just heading off to Hamburg. A lifetime ago now.

Which makes Bennett something of a history boy, you might say. At 86 he has outlived many of his contemporaries (with the death of Jonathan Miller last November, Bennett is now the only surviving member of the Beyond the Fringe cast).

And yet he has not been consigned to the past just yet. Indeed, this week sees his return to television with Talking Heads. The original Talking Heads monologues were broadcast in 1988 and 1998. Now they have been reshot for a new audience with a new cast. And so, among others, Tamsin Greig stands in for Penelope Wilton and Jodie Comer for Julie Walters (though the Crossroads references are left intact Comer’s take on Her Big Chance.)

Obviously, the BBC think Bennett is still a brand name.

Read More: Teddy Jamieson talks to Alan Bennett in 2009

The idea of new versions of much-loved dramas is intriguing enough in itself, but the fact that there will be two new monologues – The Shrine, featuring Monica Dolan, and An Ordinary Woman, played by Sarah Lancashire – may be the real thrill.

Because the prospect of new work by Bennett is still something to be excited about. Which of his contemporaries can say the same? McCartney? Jagger? Tom Stoppard? (And actually, all three are younger than Bennett, of course.)

The reboot of his Talking Heads monologues is in one way a response to television in the age of the coronavirus. They were shot with cast and crew “socially distancing,” the BBC tells us, on the set of EastEnders.

In another way, though, they are also a throwback to another era. To a time when the authorial voice was a selling point in itself. In the 1970s and 1980s (even into the 1990s) Bennett, like Dennis Potter, Alan Bleasdale, Jack Rosenthal, and Alan Plater, had his name above the titles (it was a very male setting).

The opening credit sequence of the original series of Talking Heads is a series of animated line drawings of the man himself. And the legend “by Alan Bennett” sat snugly beneath the Talking Heads title when it appeared.

Television’s ecology has changed dramatically since then. These days so many of British television’s best writers tend to adapt their voice to television formats; and so Sally Wainwright gives us crime drama (Happy Valley) and costume drama (Gentleman Jack), Paul Abbott comes up with Shameless and No Offence, on both of which he invited other writers to the table.

This is the age of the showrunner.

Maybe at a push you could argue that David Hare, Stephen Poliakoff and Shane Meadows are still working in the same vicinity as Bennett, but Hare works mostly for cinema now and both Poliakoff and Meadows double up as directors. Which leaves us with Jimmy McGovern, Jack Thorne and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the nearest contemporary equivalents to Bennett. You imagine that Waller-Bridge could write about anything she wants just now and get it made (something to look forward to once she’s finished with James Bond).

Bennett bridges both eras, of course. One of the pleasures of watching the new Talking Heads episodes, The Shrine and An Ordinary Woman, is to see how he brings his work into the 21st century; how he reflects the mundane reality of 2020. And so online pornography, computers, the contemporary language of counselling we have all adopted (both episodes use the word closure) have all seeped into his dramatic worldview.

And yet, both episodes also talk to Bennett’s eternal verities – milky tea, vicars, lives of quiet desperation. We change yet stay the same.

Bennett has always been the poet of reticence. Is that still a thing? Sometimes, these days, I wonder if shyness was a 20th-century phenomenon. And then I remember I still am, as are people in my family, and I catch myself on.

Still, there is something about Bennett’s delineation of shyness that I recognise but that also feels very post-war. In his plays and television work from the 1960s on, Bennett wove ideas of timidity and regret and loneliness into his work and used them to examine British ideas of class and sex and politics and how those forces intertwined in our everyday lives.

In part he was reflecting his own experience, of course. “My parents were quite shy and, looking back, it felt they had made ‘shy’ into a virtue and I believed that,” he once said.

As a result, shyness was part of his own lived experience. And it affected so many areas of his life. “For years, hotels and restaurants were for me theatres of humiliation and the business of eating in public every bit as fraught with risk and shame as taking one’s clothes off,” he revealed in a 1988 documentary, Dinner at Noon.

“Then as I got older,” he told Charlotte Higgins in 2015, “I realised it’s an affliction, really, and if you’re shy you are just as self-centred as anyone who is outgoing and the life and soul of the party.”

Shyness didn’t stop him having something to say, it should also be noted. And there has always been an anger, a sharpness to him, too. It’s there in his excoriating attacks on various Tory governments in his diaries and it’s there in his plays and screenplays. The fact that he can dramatise reticence and anger and wrap it all up in humour is what always made him stand out. That and the kindness of his judgements.

As Talking Heads executive producer Nicholas Hytner says of Bennett: “He has infinite compassion for and empathy with the people he writes about, even when they behave in shocking ways.”

Others have followed in his slipstream, of course. You can hear echoes of Bennett in the lyrics of Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker, for a start. To paraphrase another post-war writer who majors in the lugubrious, man hands on miserabilism to man.

(Here’s a question for you? Is this just an English thing? Who in Scotland has offered similar humane visions of quiet working-class lives – Bill Forsyth? Gordon Legge?)

In recent years, Morrissey –“an Alan Bennett fan who got lucky,” according to Julie Burchill – has turned his own insularity into a form of hatred. It’s difficult to square his recent pronouncements with the man who once wrote a lyric like “It’s so easy to laugh it’s so easy to hate/ it takes guts to be gentle and kind.”

Bennett, by contrast, has never lost his humour or empathy. It’s certainly on display in the new Talking Heads. And, as always, his viewpoint is not gendered. He is one of the great writers for female actors. Of the 12 episodes in the new series, there are only two monologues by men.

When I spoke to Bennett for The Herald Magazine back in 2009, we spoke about sex or the lack of it in his life. He had known he was gay since he was a teenager. “At the same time, it's an academic thing because there wasn't much going on anyway,” he said.

“But,” he added, “I think everybody thinks that about their life really; they always feel they've been behind the door when sex was handed out.”

There is the typical Bennettian grace note; an amused moue of regret that hides a deeper well of feeling. It’s the truth he mines in Talking Heads, The Lady in the Van, History Boys and so many of his most successful works.

And the truth is that it still hits home. So many of us are still living lives of quiet desperation. We present ourselves brightly to the world on social media and in public, but in private we remain uncertain of ourselves and our place in the world. Shyness is nice, but shyness might stop you from doing things in life you might like to. And sometimes it does, it does.

Alan Bennett knows that from experience.

Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads begins on BBC One on Tuesday at 9pm. All 12 episodes will then be available on the BBC iPlayer