One of the delights of the archives of J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes is the way they document the couple’s friendships with other artists and authors. Novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch was one of these friends. This image shows her with Priestley outside Kissing Tree House near Stratford-upon-Avon, where he and Jacquetta lived for many years.
Iris Murdoch had met J.B. “some time in the 1950s on a BBC programme” (as she told John Braine for his biography of Priestley). She quickly became friends with him and Jacquetta, visiting their home on the Isle of Wight. She recalled in her foreword for Time and the Priestleys, the memoir of the couple by another good friend, Diana Collins, that she and her husband John Bayley and the Priestleys went for walks on the cliffs and drank “Dog’s Nose” (gin in half a bitter) in the pub.
Iris admired and liked the Priestleys very much. As she said to Braine, “What a man, what a character, what an appetite for life! And I adored Jacquetta too – I’d never before met anyone so beautiful and regal. They really are king and queen figures! Yet Jack is also Falstaff …”.
The link was one of work as well as friendship. In 1963, Priestley helped Iris to adapt her novel A Severed Head for the stage, greatly improving her original draft with his expertise in dramatic structure and dialogue, his “great theatre wisdom” as she put it. The play was a great success, running for over two years.
The Priestley and Hawkes Archives include a corrected typescript of the play, and social letters and postcards to the Priestleys from Iris and Bayley. There is also a manuscript of a talk which we believe to be in Iris’s hand, probably for a birthday dinner (an undated letter refers to “my Jack-birthday speech”), in which she again celebrates his zest and humanity: “If you are tired of Jack, you are tired of life”. The letters mainly concern social events, but give a real sense of the shared friendship between the two couples:
“Thank you both for such splendid days. I loved talking, and listening, and looking out of the window, and swimming, and drinking, and seeing the night jars …”