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Sweetly Sings Delaney: A Study of Shelagh Delaney's Work 1958-68

John Harding




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Shelagh Delaney rose to fame following the instant success in 1958 of her first play A Taste of Honey. Lauded as Britain's answer to the controversial French novelist Francoise Sagan, Delaney's work scandalised her home city of Salford but established her as one of the country's most original and exhilarating young playwrights during a period in theatre history when women writers were rare and acceptance hard to achieve.

Delaney has served as an inspiration to countless young artists down the succeeding years. Rock star Morrissey wrote, 'She has always been a part of my life as a perfect example of how to get up and get out and do it.'Novelist Jeanette Winterson claimed, 'She was like a lighthouse - pointing the way and warning about the rocks underneath.'

Sweetly Sings Delaney is the story of her first exciting decade as a writer when she not only produced challenging and dramatic work in prose and on stage but also collaborated with some of the most innovative film and documentary-makers of the decade such as Ken Russell, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, not to mention actor and fellow Salfordian Albert Finney during his first and only foray as a film director.


About the author:

John Harding is the author of several biographies including that of poet and illustrator Ralph Hodgson and Edwardian footballer Billy Meredith as well as books and articles on literary fiction, music hall and sporting history.


204  pages

ISBN: 978-1-906075-83-5

Greenwich Exchange Category: Biography

Series: None



Other books by John Harding published by Greenwich Exchange:

Patrick Hamilton

A Bend in the River: V.S. Naipaul

Staging Life: The Story of the Manchester Playwrights

The House with Three Eyes: A Venetian Mystery

Dreaming of Babylon: The Life and Times of Ralph Hodgson




Stunning new book sings sweetly of Shelagh Delaney

This week were delighted to receive a new book by academic John Harding about the award-winning Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney.

Sweetly Sings Delaney, published by Greenwich Exchange, covers the first decade of her writing career when she produced some of her most challenging and evocative work, the years 1958-68.

John Harding has done an incredible amount of research into Shelagh Delaney and it shows, repeatedly, in this brilliant book.

Shelagh was born in Hope Hospital in November 1938 to Joseph and Elsie Delaney.

Growing up in Salford at that time, you have to remember the terrible living, health, housing and social conditions that Salford was to become synonymous with, no wonder it got labelled the 'Dirty Old Town'.

She was an outspoken child who didn't exactly endear herself to her teachers at the (various) Salford schools she attended, she was however a bright and popular pupil, eager to learn, with a wicked eye for detail and a surprising command of language that would soon become evident.

It is incredible to think that she was only 19 when she penned her most famous work, A Taste of Honey sending it to Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Workshop in London, along with a letter explaining why she had written the play.

We all know the success that the play brought Shelagh but what I found abhorrent was the way that she was treated by the local paper, The Salford City Reporter , and in particular by its then-editor, Saul Reece.

He wrote several articles with such headlines as 'A Taste of Honey Has a Bitter Flavour' and dubbed the play "a sordid tale".

The editor's son Dr Murray Reece also wrote a piece for the paper after a London performance titled: 'A Taste of Cash for Shelagh but a Kick in the Teeth for Salford'.

Dr Reece wrote: "Alas poor Salford that the only emotion she arouses in the hearts of her talented sons and daughters is the desire to wipe their muddy boots on her," followed by such vitriol that would see you in the Law Courts today.

It makes you wonder if these people lived in the real world.

Salford was well known and still is for its rough and ready attitude and proud of it, not some fantasy land where illegimate children never happened and heaven forbid homosexuality was ever mentioned.

Shelagh had the ideal riposte when the Salford City Reporter turned up at her house on Duchy Road in the hope of an interview.

Her reply? "The Salford City Reporter is not fulfilling its duty as a weekly paper and is only fit for what it is doing anyway - serving as a wrapper for fish and chips. But in any case, I'm not interested in the Reporter."

Salford Council did not fare much better until the succes of the film of A Taste of Honey made her a household name.

Harding's deep love for Delaney shines through again and again throughout Sweetly Sings Delaney.

It makes fascinating reading to hear about the circles that she moved in, going to Buile Hill Park cafe with the Salford artist, Harold Riley, drinks with Brendan Behan, working with Wolf Mankowitz, Ken Russell, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and Albert Finney, to name but a few.

Manchester musician Morrissey is well known for his admiration of Delaney, going as far to pen a song in her name and having her face on the cover a Smiths record, but did you know that Paul McCartney took a line from A Taste of Honey for Your Mother Should Know from The Magical Mystery Tour film as a possible homage to The White Bus?

The author covers the period when she wrote The Lion in Love, a three act play set in Salford centered around the dysfunctional Fresko family considered by many to be inferior to A Taste of Honey.

Also covered in meticulous depth are studies into her film The White Bus and Charlie Bubbles; the first and only film in which Albert Finney took up the role of film director.

Reading back through the book and listening to Shelagh Delaney you realise that she could have only come from Salford, that confidence, swagger and self-belief is typically Salfordian and that is why we love her in her home city.

In my opinion this book is a must-read; not only for the academic wishing to learn more about Salford's own enfant terrible but for anybody who comes from Salford who is proud of his city's heritage.

I can not praise it highly enough, an amazing book about about an equally amazing woman.

Tony Flynn/Salford