Barry Hines dead: Kestrel for a Knave author and Kes creator dies, aged 76

Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, called the Yorkshire novelist a 'brilliant and inspiring writer'

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The Independent Online

Barry Hines, who wrote the novel A Kestrel for a Knave that would be adapted into the classic film Kes, has died aged 76.

Tributes to the Barnsley-born author, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, poured in after the news was announced. Actor Kathy Burke called Hines “our generation’s JK [Rowling]”.

Dan Jarvis, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, called the Yorkshire novelist a “brilliant and inspiring writer”.

Poet and radio presenter Ian McMillan described A Kestrel for a Knave, published in 1968, as “Barnsley’s defining myth”. The story of working class Billy Casper, who escapes his troubled school life by training a kestrel was inspired by Hines’s brother Richard’s experiences with the birds as a child.  

It was adapted into a film, Kes, by Ken Loach in 1969, and was ranked seventh in the BFI’s top British Films compiled in 1999. It was produced by Tony Garnett, who wrote a tribute to his friend on 20 March, saying: “I’m sad, thinking of my old friend, a man I loved.”

They worked on four films. “His character and his writing were all of a piece. Direct, simple and honest,” Mr Garnett said. “His simplicity was hewn out of a close analysis of others and their place in a society riven by class interests.”

Hines was born in the mining village of Hoyland Common and went to school in Sheffield. He left without qualifications and joined the National Coal Board as an apprentice mining surveyor.

Returning to his studies, he eventually became a PE teacher in London and South Yorkshire, where he wrote novels in the school libraries after the pupils had gone home.

Football was a great passion and at school he made the England Grammar Schools team. His first novel, The Blinder, published in 1966, was about a gifted young footballer. 

Hines wrote nine novels over a career spanning half a century and, in 1984 he also wrote Threads, a television drama which imagined the effects of a nuclear attack on Sheffield. Six years later, he wrote TV film, Born Kicking, about a female footballer.

But it is for A Kestrel For A Knave that he will remain best known and loved. Considered a modern classic, it has for years been widely taught in schools as a set text.

Speaking about his novel to Yorkshire’s On: magazine four years ago, he said: “I think I painted an accurate picture of what life was like for someone like Billy 40 years ago. Looking back, maybe I was not as sympathetic as I could have been to some of the adult characters.”

He also spoke of the responsibility he felt to the people of Yorkshire and the areas he so often wrote about, saying: “The main thing for me is to feel that I have represented them well.”

While he had settled in Sheffield with his wife, Eleanor, later in life he moved back to near Hoyland Common. 

Other tributes came from the actor David Morrissey, who said he “loved his writing growing up, Kes, a huge influence on me, but also The Blinder, Looks and Smiles and The Price of Coal.” 

Actor Samuel West said Mr Hines was “my guide to Yorkshire before I lived there” while author Jonathan Coe said the writer “leaves a great legacy”.