Shelagh Delaney, 1939 - 2011

Best known for _A Taste of Honey_, the playwright also wrote screenplays Lindsay Anderson, Albert Finney and Mike Newell.
David Hudson

"Playwright Shelagh Delaney, best known for her 1958 play A Taste of Honey, has died of cancer," reports Robert Barr for the AP. "The writer was just 19 when A Taste of Honey premiered. 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 at the time, but the play had successful runs in London and New York…. Delaney's immediate inspiration was her dislike of Terence Rattigan's play, Variations on a Theme. Believing she could do better, she wrote A Taste of Honey in two weeks, reworking material from a novel she was writing. Delaney and the film's director, Tony Richardson, shared BAFTA and Writer's Guild awards for best screenplay for the 1961 film adaptation, which starred Rita Tushingham."

"Delaney's play sits in between John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) and Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964)," wrote Jeanette Winterson in the Guardian last year. "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…. The reviews of Honey and her second play, A Lion in Love, read like a depressing essay in sexism."

At Dangerous Minds, Paul Gallagher introduces the short film embedded above: "The playwright Shelagh Delaney returned to her home town for this early film by Ken Russell, made in 1960 for the BBC's Monitor strand…. Russell's film mainly focuses on an interview with Delaney, and has some well considered images of people, places, and Delaney wandering through Salford's streets and market. After A Taste of Honey, Delaney wrote screenplays for The White Bus (1967) directed by Lindsay Anderson, Charlie Bubbles (1967) directed by and starring Albert Finney, and Dance With a Stranger, about the killer Ruth Ellis for director Mike Newell in 1985."

A tidbit from the Wikipedia entry: "In 1986, Morrissey said, 'I've never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney.' Many of Morrissey's lyrics are lifted directly from Delaney's plays, notably A Taste of Honey, which he praised as 'virtually the only important thing in British film in the 1960s as far as I'm concerned.'"

Update: In the Guardian, Dennis Barker notes that, when A Taste of Honey premiered, Delaney "had to endure harsh criticism for her attack on the orthodoxies of the period. Her play was innovative in breaking several taboos discreetly observed by the likes of Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan, in whose dramas working-class characters generally appeared as chirpy subsidiaries and who mostly presented women as either madonnas or sluts. A Taste of Honey showed working-class women from a working-class woman's point of view, had a gay man as a central and sympathetic figure, and a black character who was neither idealized nor a racial stereotype." Following that initial success, "but her subsequent work never achieved an impact as great as her groundbreaking debut. The familiar difficulty of writing a second hit bore down especially hard on her, not least because her first play had succeeded due to its apparent unselfconscious spontaneity."

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