Friday, July 25, 2014

Shelagh Delaney's Salford (1960)

After I posted a clip from A Taste of Honey as a tribute to Dora Bryan, a reader kindly tweeted me the link to this short film.

Shelagh Delaney's Salford was made by Ken Russell and broadcast on 25 September 1960, when I was precisely six months old. She comes over as a striking and attractive figure.

The story of A Taste of Honey is worth retelling. Michael Billngton did so after Delaney died in 2011:
Shelagh Delaney ... was almost as important for what she symbolised as for what she wrote. She was, as Jeanette Winterson wrote in the Guardian last year, "the first working-class woman playwright". And even if nothing she later wrote achieved the success of her first play, A Taste of Honey, Delaney proved that an 18-year-old Salford girl could breach the walls of what, even in 1958, was still a mainly middle-class, male-dominated British theatre. ...
Delaney had been taken to see Terence Rattigan's Variations on a Theme at Manchester's Opera House and came away convinced she could do better. So, in little more than a fortnight, she banged out a play about a feisty Salford girl, Jo, who is left alone by her flighty mum one Christmas, goes to bed with a transient Nigerian sailor, gets pregnant and is lovingly tended by an effeminate art student. Having written the piece, Delaney had the nous to send it to Joan Littlewood, who had turned the Theatre Royal, Stratford East into a vibrant home of new drama. 
In her autobiography, Littlewood made no bones about the fact that a lot of work was needed to knock Delaney's play into shape. She liked the sparky dialogue but felt many of the scenes were undeveloped and the plot anecdotal. So she got Avis Bunnage, as Jo's mum, to use her talent for direct address and brought in a jazz quartet, consisting of trumpet, drums, guitar and sax, to set the mood. Delaney's slightly artless script quickly became a critical success.
Her career never reached these heights again. In some ways she was a female version of Leicester's Colin Wilson, who was taken up by the critics for his first book The Outsider and butchered by them for his second.

And I do like the comment in the original theatre programme for A Taste of Honey, as quoted by Rachel Cooke:
She is the antithesis of London's 'angry young men'. She knows what she is angry about.

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

"the first working-class woman playwright"

That accolade should probably go to Aphra Behn. Delaney's innovation was to write about working-class life from the inside. (Behn's subjects were more exotic.)