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Published on Jan 20, 2012
Anthony Burgess in Brunei: After a brief period of leave in England during 1958, Burgess secured a teaching job at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College in Brunei Town. A British protectorate since 1888, the Brunei sultanate was not to achieve full independence until 1984. It was here that Burgess sketched the novel that, when it was published in 1961, was to be called 'Devil of a State'.
In 1959 Burgess "collapsed" in a Brunei classroom while teaching history. He was expounding on the causes and consequences of the Boston Tea Party. The effects of prolonged heavy drinking, of the Southeast Asian climate, of chronic constipation, and of overwork and professional disappointment had taken a toll. As he put it, the scions of the sultans and of the elite in Brunei "did not wish to be taught", because the free-flowing abundance of oil guaranteed their income and privileged status. He may also have wished for a pretext to abandon teaching and get going full-time as a writer, having made a late start.
Describing the Brunei debacle to an interviewer over twenty years later, Burgess commented: "One day in the classroom I decided that I'd had enough and to let others take over. I just lay down on the floor out of interest to see what would happen." On another occasion he described it as "a willed collapse out of sheer boredom and frustration". He told the interviewer Jeremy Isaacs in 1987: "I was driven out of the Colonial Service for political reasons that were disguised as clinical reasons."
He also alluded to this in an interview with Don Swaim, explaining that after his wife Lynne had said something "obscene" to the UK Queen's consort, Prince Philip, during an official visit, the colonial authorities turned against him. He had already earned their displeasure, he told Swaim, by writing for the newspaper of the revolutionary opposition party the Parti Rakyat Brunei, and for his friendship with its leader A.M. Azahari. Discussion of the Duke of Edinburgh's visit to Brunei: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkEVsp...