ALAN TAYLOR is telling me a delightful story about the late Alan Rickman, which seems to define this acclaimed and revered English actor.

Taylor is the editor of the eagerly-awaited Rickman diaries, Madly Deeply, published next week.

“You will often hear people being described as being generous to a fault. With Alan Rickman this was simply an extension of his personality. In his later years he would always insist on picking up the tab for lunch and dinner and nor was this an extravagant or showy gesture,” said Taylor.

“Whenever anyone sought to insist on paying the bill Rickman would reach across; gently touch his companion’s arm and whisper quietly, “Harry Potter’.”

Rickman died of pancreatic cancer in 2016 at the age of 69. By then he had become one of the most instantly recognisable film actors of the 21st century.

For those of us who don’t profess to be devotees or obsessive about cinema, Rickman belonged to that anointed group whose name alone would entice you to watch a film that wasn’t immediately alluring.

At least you knew Rickman’s delivery (he would make the banal seem mesmeric) and his knack of gifting his characters (even the baddies) with a patina of subversive wit would make the movie at least watchable.

Those landmark films of his, Die Hard, Truly Madly Deeply, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and all eight in the Harry Potter franchise, came relatively late in a career that, until then, had already achieved excellence in British and US theatre. His diaries look set to enthral us still. Ahead of publication they had already reached the top 10 on the Amazon Bestseller list.

Taylor would always be among those you would consider for this task. Along with his former wife, Irene, he compiled the acclaimed Assassin’s Cloak, a 706-page anthology of the world’s greatest diarists.

Later, he would compile an anthology of what he considered the best writing about Glasgow. He had also been a writer and editor on most of the major titles in The Herald and Scotsman groups.

Taylor said of Rickman: “Not many people had known he had been keeping a diary for many years.

“His wife, Rima Horton, knew he had kept a journal, but not the extent of them and nor had she read them.

“On discovering them all, she sought help from Alan’s close friend, Neil Pearson, a brilliant actor and a notable bibliophile and rare books dealer. With the help of a literary agent they drew up a prospectus for publishers to bid for them.”

In stepped the boutique Edinburgh firm, Canongate, whose chief Jamie Byng regularly pulls off publishing coups against global literary giants. “Jamie was keen to publish the Rickman Diaries and decided to throw my name into the mix as editor of The Assassin’s Cloak,” added Taylor.

And so, in January last year, all 26 volumes accompanied by appointment books arrived at Taylor’s home in the Borders… along with a deadline. He had precisely nine months to get 250,000 words from 1.25 million.

Taylor was immediately transported into Rickman’s world. He found it an enriching experience.

“His concerns soon become your concerns as you begin to inhabit his world. You get to know him. Diaries are the most intimate of forms. Some people start diaries sparingly, seeking to convey a specific aspect of themselves. But this rarely lasts long.

“Keeping a diary is addictive and, over time, the author’s true character insinuates itself onto the pages. You get a true sense of who they really are.”

Very few others have read more diaries than Taylor and this must surely bequeath a certain cynical ennui that might come from years of wading through chaff to discover wheat. But he was immediately captivated. “Alan Rickman was someone with whom you’d liked to have spent time with and in whose company it would have been a pleasure to be. He was gregarious and had a vast array of friends and huge array of interests,” Taylor said.

“I remember reading the Chips Channon [American-born British Tory politician] diaries. As you read these you couldn’t help yourself thinking that this is one helluva loathsome individual, and that it really would be a hardship to spend time with him.

“The more you read Alan Rickman’s entries the more you find yourself wanting to read more. He bothers about other people and their lives, attending the funerals of family and friends and finding the time to write about them; making hospital visits to old friends.”

Taylor was surprised to discover how often Scotland and Scottish people came to feature in these entries. Rickman considered Richard Wilson to be a valued mentor and had rewarding professional and personal relationships with Brian Cox and Dame Emma Thompson. He was close to Liam Neeson and his wife, the late Natasha Richardson. “He wrote beautifully about her after her death,” said Taylor.

“It became clear, too, that Alan maintained close connections with Scotland. A little-known, but enchanting film he directed was The Winter Guest.

“It starred a young Emma Thompson and her mother, the Glasgow-born Phyllida Law. The cast featured a number of young, first-time actors from the west of Scotland in key roles, all of whom maintained a lifelong connection with him and were regular visitors to his home thereafter.

“He was a regular at the Fringe and often stayed with close friends in Portobello.”

The film was made in the East Neuk of Fife and from his entries it’s evident Rickman considered the directing of this film as among the best work he ever produced.

It shouldn’t be beyond BBC Scotland or STV to locate this film and show it to accompany publication of the Diaries.

One of the star’s last public appearances was at the invitation of the Scottish film critic Allan Hunter, for the Glasgow Film Festival. The GFT had put on another film Rickman had directed called A Little Chaos. It was to be one of his last works and, though by then very ill, he had insisted on making an appearance at the screening. “He hadn’t needed to have done that and no one had expected him to. He had been quite ill at the time,” said Taylor.

“Where these diaries are brilliant,” Taylor added, “is in the descriptions of what it’s like to be an actor in the 20th century. It’s the sheer grind of it. Everyone now talks about his films, but as a theatre actor he was a considerable presence. Twice a day on Broadway, even with a stinking cold. But he went at it doggedly day after day: from reading the script to the rehearsals to the performances to the first-night reviews.”

And especially, it seemed, the review from the theatre critic of the New York Times.

How this paper reviews you can kill your production and chisel at the confidence of the most seasoned actors.

In Rickman’s words: “If the phone doesn’t ring the day after the first night you know you’re in trouble.”

Despite having compiled The Assassin’s Cloak, now regarded as one of the most authoritative and complete anthologies of diary-writing, Taylor admitted to being daunted by the task of editing Rickman’s journals. He said: “There’s the natural anxiety when you start something like this. You realise a lot is hanging on it: will your editing come up to expectations?

“You begin to see what his domestic life is like and what his routines are. And, in spite of his global renown in such a gilded profession you begin to understand how difficult it is to be someone like him and being true to himself in that kind of world.

“In the end, it became very moving. You observe someone becoming very ill and the moments when he visits a consultant who delivers very bad news. ‘This is a very different diary now’, he writes.

“There’s a natural curvature in most diaries. They might just start off with a few comments and then they become more discursive as the author becomes more addicted to the task. With Alan’s they begin to tail off and then more or less finish in the knowledge that he’s going to die.”

It’s at this point, said Taylor, that Alan’s widow, Rima stepped in and performed an act of love and, perhaps, duty.

She agreed to pen an afterword account of her husband’s last weeks. “It must have been very painful for her to do yet she did it beautifully.”

Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries. Edited by Alan Taylor, foreword by Emma Thompson. Published by Canongate, October 4.