Salford is to celebrate the life of one of its “most famous daughters”, Shelagh Delaney, amid calls for an official apology over an alleged smear campaign against the late playwright by the city’s luminaries.
The teenage Delaney’s 1958 kitchen-sink drama A Taste of Honey, which recently enjoyed a successful revival at the National Theatre, caught the spirit of the times. She later became an inspiration for pop star Morrissey. But her subject matter, including casual inter-racial sex and homosexuality led to condemnation in the council chamber, pulpit and in the local press, according to a new book. A plan for her to create a people’s theatre was sabotaged because of her suspected communist sympathies, it is claimed.
According to Sweetly Sings Delaney, by John Harding, in 1961 the then leader of the council, Sir Sidney Hamburger, lambasted the “persistent denigration of Salford by all sorts of people”.
Alderman Hamburger is quoted as saying the latest notoriety made him “want to vomit”.
“I don’t understand why there seems to be a general policy of denigration of this city … whether playwrights drawing royalties from plays on subjects which seek to rub our noses in the muck or aspiring playwrights who have learned from others’ successes,” he added.
Announcing that the first official annual Shelagh Delaney Day will take place on 25 November this year, Salford’s elected mayor Ian Stewart described the writer as one of the city’s “most famous daughters … who captured and celebrated the spirit of Salford”.
This prompted accusations of “hypocrisy” from the local paper: “The Salford Star is demanding that the Mayor and Salford City Council should make a full formal apology before jumping on the Delaney bandwagon.”
However Louise Woodward-Styles, who led the campaign to create the day, said the writer’s daughter, Charlotte, had been “amused” by calls for an apology.
“Why should a council apologise for the attitudes of a bygone era, a society that not only feared difference but was also unable to recognise that life in Salford wasn’t all a bed of roses?” she asked. “Apology? Not in Shelagh’s name.”