In this BBC Postscript broadcast, Priestley described his recent visits to ENSA performances in munitions factories. The Entertainments National Service Association had been set up in 1939 by theatre and film director Basil Dean to provide entertainment for the armed forces.
In the first factory Priestley visited, two thousand young women, “very natty in their coloured overalls”, pushed aside “what remained of the meat pies and fried plaice and chops they’d had for lunch” and sang “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, how you can love!” along with the orchestra. The second factory was “grimmer and more masculine”, full of power and noise, shotblasters dressed like “divers or perhaps creatures from Mars”; the workers laughed heartily at the concert party of comedians telling what Priestley felt were old jokes. Priestley praised these concerts for making the hard lives of these workers more enjoyable, and went on to express his life-long belief in the value of culture.
As this piece shows, Priestley was fascinated by the new forms of social and cultural life that this war was creating so quickly, particularly in the great factories which had been hurriedly built to make the machines needed for war. In the novel Daylight on Saturday, published in 1943, Priestley confined the action to the inside of an aircraft factory in the South Midlands, a working environment he compared to a cave, a mountain, or the bottom of the sea. At the very end of the novel, it is Saturday and Priestley’s large cast of characters, a cross-section of the factory and of society, stream out into the open air, hope, and what feels like a new world, maybe a metaphor for the end of the war. As Priestley himself noted in a letter to his publisher*, Daylight on Saturday offers a wartime parallel to his other great group novel about the world of work, Angel Pavement. Both contain a rich variety of plots and perspectives, and use a work setting to bring unlikely people together and set up conflicts.
*Cited by Holger Klein in J.B. Priestley’s fiction (Lang, 2002) p.132.