THE BLOG
17/12/2013 05:37 GMT | Updated 15/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Lawrence of Asperabia

Peter O'Toole has passed away. Like Jeffrey Bernard, he is rather more than unwell; and the news has savaged his fans and followers more acutely than the critics of Macbeth savaged him back in 1980.

I remember him for different reasons, most simply because on the day I was diagnosed, my psychologist (a highly-experienced man who'd dealt with hundreds of Aspergers) told me unequivocally that he'd once seen Lawrence of Arabia and that T. E. Lawrence (as written by Robert Bolt and played by O'Toole) had displayed unmistakable symptoms of Aspergers:

"He focused intently on one precise skill - cartography, drove his employers mad and disappeared into the desert on a camel!" he said.

I focused intently on cataloguing, drove my employers mad and disappeared into the Mojave desert on an Amtrak train!

There's also one short scene in Lawrence which clinches the argument for me.

Near the start of the film, T. E. Lawrence walks through the officers' mess in Cairo en route to have a "pow-wow" with a general. His uniform is rumpled and gives the impression he is an outsider, He wears his cap indoors (which looks out of place), disrupts a game of billiards and twirls dyspraxically into a fellow officer. He is considered a clown, he says it's just his manner. The general doesn't know whether he's bad-mannered or half-witted. Neither does Lawrence.

I know the feeling.

That single scene, written economically, shot cleanly and acted immaculately, captures Lawrence's Aspergers perfectly.

At the time (1961-1962) no one had ever heard of Asperger Syndrome, yet Bolt, David Lean and O'Toole caught its characteristics perfectly. One reason I agree that Robert Bolt's screenplay is arguably the greatest ever written, and perhaps why I have been increasingly influenced by and impressed with it.

There's one other funny thing. It was mentioned in Dear Miss Landau that, as we prepared for my own little trip (to go see Juliet Landau, not take Aqaba) in 2010, the National Autistic Society Scotland did begin to wonder whether I might be the first Asperger to carry out and record such a trip.

Perhaps I was, but Lawrence predated me with Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Revolt In The Desert. As he is now long dead and cannot be diagnosed, I could cling to my paper title on a technicality, but on the whole I don't mind coming second to such a man.

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.