How I Met Lawrence of Arabia

Figuratively of course

Image: Wikimedia Commons

I met T.E. Lawrence in ‘Ross’, the play by Terence Rattigan. It was put on as a school play and I had a speaking part as ‘Rashid’, an Arab in his camp, affecting a Welsh schoolboy version of what I thought was the accent of an Arab tribesman. My accent was even mentioned in the local newspaper review.


So, I was quite close to Lawrence of Arabia, or Leading Aircraftman Ross, the cover identity that Colonel T. E. Lawrence adopted. But of course as an Arab tribesman I only knew him as ‘El Lawrens’.

The director of the play was my school’s senior history teacher — J R Williams. That’s Jasper Ryland Williams. I later named a dog after him.

Dickie Spit

He (the teacher) was known by the boys in my all-male school as ‘Dickie Spit’.

The front row in his classroom was usually empty.

Guess why.

The dog was named Jasper, by the way, not Dickie Spit.

Not proper

Anyway, there was some dialogue in the play which was omitted from the school version because of allusions to homosexuality.

That was not deemed proper in a rugby-mad Welsh grammar school — even boys who played Association Football (i.e. soccer) were considered to be sissies.

I played rugby. And Arabs.


I was starstruck, surrounded by famous people. Who wouldn’t be? OK, they were dead, but that didn’t really matter.

In the dressing room (actually the rugby changing rooms) I met General Allenby, played by Noel R. I still see Noel occasionally, and every time my mind is cast back to the scene in the play where Allenby has an argument (I think with Colonel T. E. Lawrence) and storms out. Noel had black hair and Allenby’s had to be gray. So, Noel’s hair was liberally doused with talcum powder.

Scene: British Army office, heated argument. Required: Rant by Allenby, who slams (no other word) his peaked army hat onto his head.

Effect: A huge cloud of talcum powder explodes. General’s head hidden as he turns on his heel and exits stage left.

Laughter. No cue necessary.

I still have the script, somewhere in a box half a world away from where I am now. And Noel’s hair is genuinely gray, no talcum powder required.


Looking back I realize that the play opened my eyes to the Middle East and the problems caused by the British, the French and the Turks, problems which persist all too painfully today, problems which are not unique to the Middle East, or to Britain, France or Turkey.

Only later did I realize that during that play I fell in love with the magic, the mystique of the Arabian Nights and I have since set a couple of my novels in the region.

Many years after I played Rashid, I worked in the Gulf States on and off for a couple of years, just before Desert Storm. More interference, more trouble, more political double dealing. Another bitter harvest.

But it really is a mystical region and not far from the generally-accepted origins of inhumanity in the Great African Rift Valley.

David Lean’s film ‘Lawrence of Arabia‘ an acknowledged masterpiece.