Shelagh Delaney: Writer best known for her controversial first play 'A Taste of Honey'

 

Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey was part of Britain's cultural revolution of the late 1950s, when well-made plays and films gave way to the gritty realism of working-class life. It was the era of kitchen-sink drama and Angry Young Men. Delaney, who has died of cancer just short of her 72nd birthday, was an Angry Young Woman.

She was 19 when A Taste of Honey opened at Joan Littlewood's pioneering Theatre Royal Stratford East. The downbeat tale of a young woman's pregnancy following a one-night stand with a black sailor, and her supportive relationship with a gay artist, verged on scandalous, but the play had successful runs in London and New York.

In Encounter in 1959, Colin MacInnes wrote, "A Taste of Honey is the first English play I've seen in which a coloured man and a queer boy are presented as natural characters, factually, without a nudge or shudder ... The play gives a great thirst for more authentic portraits of the mid 20th-century English world."

Delaney had written the play in rebellion against a theatrical culture she saw as portraying what she referred to in Ken Russell's 1960 film for Monitor as "safe, sheltered, cultured lives in charming surroundings, not life as the majority of ordinary people know it."

Her immediate inspiration was her dislike of Terence Rattigan's Variations on a Theme. She wrote A Taste... in two weeks, reworking material from a novel she was writing. She sent the manuscript to Littlewood, writing, "I am sending this play to you for your opinion. Would you please return it to me, as whatever sort of theatrical atrocity it is to you it means something to me."

Instead, Littlewood put the play into rehearsal within two weeks, and it opened in May 1958. It transferred to the West End and then to Broadway, providing personal triumphs for Joan Plowright, who played the girl onstage, and Rita Tushingham, who played her in Tony Richardson's superbly atmospheric 1961 film adaptation.

Some critics were scathing, however: "Once, authors wrote good plays set in drawing rooms. Now, under the Welfare State, they write bad plays set in garrets," sneered "EG" in the Daily Mail, though Graham Greene wrote, "It has all the freshness of Mr Osborne's Look Back in Anger," adding waspishly, "and a greater maturity". Delaney and Richardson shared Bafta and Writer's Guild awards for best screenplay.

Morrissey's passion for A Taste of Honey gave it something of a second life on Smiths records: he took numerous lines from the play, including, "I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice" on "Reel Around The Fountain". "Hand in Glove", "This Charming Man" and "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" also quote Delaney, who was featured on the cover of the Smiths' 1987 album Louder than Bombs. She politely turned down Morrissey's invitation to appear in the Meltdown Festival he curated on London's South Bank in 2004.

Born in Salford in 1939, Delaney left school at 16, working as a salegirl, an usherette and a photographer's assistant. Her early work was rooted in her home town. "The language is alive, it's virile, it lives and it breathes and you know exactly where it's coming from," she told Ken Russell in the Monitor film. "Right out of the earth. Down by the river it's even romantic, if you can stand the smell."

Her 1960 follow-up, The Lion in Love, about the marriage between a frustrated man and an aggressive woman, didn't enjoy the same success, and Delaney would 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 (1966), adapted by Lindsay Anderson from a short story from Delaney's 1963 collection Sweetly Sings the Donkey; Charlie Bubbles (1968), starring Albert Finney as local-lad-made-good returning to Manchester in his Rolls-Royce, for which she won a second Writer's Guild Award; and The Raging Moon (1970), directed by Bryan Forbes, which bravely explored the sexual relationship between two wheelchair-bound characters (Malcolm McDowell and Nanette Newman). The best of her screenplays is probably Dance With A Stranger (1985), in which Miranda Richardson portrayed Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

Delaney never quite repeated the success of A Taste of Honey – which for all its grittiness she saw as essentially optimistic. "No one in my play despairs," she said. "Like the majority of people they take in their stride whatever happens to them and remain cheerful."

Shelagh Delaney, playwright and screenwriter: born Salford, Lancashire 25 November 1939; one daughter; died 20 November 2011.

Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?