Shelagh Delaney RIP

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Shelagh Delaney RIP

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 22, 2011 6:17 pm

Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey writer, dies aged 71

Actors and writers pay tribute to Salford-born playwright and writer, who became an overnight success at 19

Caroline Davies
guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 November 2011 20.12 GMT


Shelagh Delaney, pictured here in 1961, has died aged 71. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Shelagh Delaney, the acclaimed playwright whose ground-breaking debut, A Taste of Honey, challenged many of the taboos of 50s Britain, has died. She was 71 and had been suffering from cancer.

The feisty Salford-born writer, who drew on the gritty reality of working-class life, was one of the pioneers of the "kitchen sink" realism movement of the late 1950s and 1960s.

She was just 19 when A Taste of Honey premiered in 1958 and became an instant success, with runs in London and New York. An earthy and moving story of a teenage girl's pregnancy following a one-night stand with a black sailor, and her supportive relationship with a gay artist, it would become one of the defining feminist plays of the 1950s.

It was subsequently turned into a film, starring Rita Tushingham and earning Delaney and the film's director, Tony Richardson, Bafta and Writer's Guild awards for best screenplay.

Tushingham told the Guardian: "Shelagh was such an important person at the start of my career. I am deeply saddened that we have lost such an amazing talent."

Jane Villiers, Delaney's agent for the last 15 years, told Channel 4: "No word was wasted. Every word meant something. She was extraordinarily accurate about characters."

The daughter of a bus inspector of Irish descent, Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey, aged just 18, after seeing and disliking Terence Rattigan's play Variation on a Theme, partly because she felt his work showed insensitivity in the way it portrayed homosexuality.

She wrote it in two weeks, adapting it from a novel she was already working on. Her second play, The Lion in Love, which portrayed an impoverished family and a difficult marriage, did not enjoy the same critical success when it opened in 1960. She did not write for the theatre again until 1979, when she revised her BBC series The House that Jack Built.

In between she wrote screenplays: The White Bus (1965), Charlie Bubbles (1967), The Raging Moon (1970), and the screenplay for the 1985 film Dance with a Stranger, based on the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed for a crime in Britain.

Driven, in part, by rebellion against a theatre which, she claimed, did not portray "life as the majority of ordinary people know it", she found a vitality in Salford that infused her writing. "The language is alive, it's virile, it lives and it breathes and you know exactly where it's coming from. Right out of the earth," she said in a 1960 film by Ken Russell. "Down by the river it's even romantic, if you can stand the smell."

Acknowledging her as an inspiration, the author Jeanette Winterson has said Delaney's talent had been allowed to fade because of her gender. "She was like a lighthouse – pointing the way and warning about the rocks underneath. She was the first working-class woman playwright," Winterson wrote in the Guardian last year. "She had all the talent and we let her go."

The singer Morrissey frequently referenced her writing in his lyrics, particularly in the song This Night Has Opened My Eyes, and her face appeared on the cover of The Smiths' compilation album Louder Than Bombs and single Girlfriend in a Coma. The Beatles were also said to be fans, recording their own version of the theme from the film adaptation of A Taste Of Honey.

eddie
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Re: Shelagh Delaney RIP

Post  eddie on Tue Nov 22, 2011 6:22 pm

My hero: Shelagh Delaney by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson
The Guardian, Saturday 18 September 2010

Shelagh Delaney's first play, A Taste of Honey, was produced at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1958, and then transferred to the West End and Broadway. She was 18. It's the story of Jo, a working-class girl who gets pregnant while her mother holidays with her fancy man. Delaney's play sits in between John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) and Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964). All three plays were made into movies. Each was part of the new wave in theatre and cinema where the (male) northern working classes stripped life down to the raw.

But Delaney was a woman. She was the dog on its hind legs, to paraphrase Dr Johnson's comment about women preachers – "like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." A Taste of Honey was not a flash in the pan, as critics enjoyed calling it. Sure, she got her first chance, but then what? Any young writer needs time and self-belief, and crucially, the belief of others, too. Orton, Osborne, Harold Pinter were not sentimentalised and patronised – or written off – in the way that Delaney was. The reviews of Honey and her second play, A Lion in Love, read like a depressing essay in sexism. Pinter was a great writer, no doubt about it, but his early work was messy. It was Peter Hall who turned things round for him with The Homecoming in 1964. Nobody turned things round for Delaney.

She wrote two plays, got herself a Bafta for her film script of A Taste of Honey, and quietly petered out, though most people forget that she also wrote the film script for Dance with a Stranger (1985), a powerful movie about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England.

Delaney was born in Salford in 1939. I was born in Manchester in 1959. Same background, same early success. She was like a lighthouse – pointing the way and warning about the rocks underneath. She was the first working-class woman playwright. She had all the talent and we let her go.

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