Tag Archives: Authors

“People before Things”: remembering Bill Mitchell (1928-2015)

Sad news: Bill Mitchell, journalist, historian and University of Bradford honorary graduate, died yesterday, aged 87.

wrp7 W R MitchellBill needs no introduction to anyone with an interest in the Yorkshire Dales: the first editor of the Dalesman Magazine and a prolific contributor to other journals, he wrote hundreds of books and articles about Dales people, landscape and wildlife.  Throughout his career he applied and often quoted the principle “People before things”, said to him by Dalesman founder Harry Scott in 1948.

Bill was a lovely person, with an incredible fund of engaging anecdotes and lively stories.  He will be much missed.

scan0011

Find out more about Bill’s life, works and archives:

Mitch_Ingleborough

Who put the B. in J.B.?

We’re often asked about J.B. Priestley’s middle initial, so we thought we’d share our knowledge.

B is for BOYNTON!

Priestley, JB Chapman of Rhymes tp cr 2

Young John Priestley, known as Jack to his friends and family, adopted the B and the Boynton in his teens, growing up in Bradford before the First World War.  J. Boynton Priestley, 5 Saltburn Place, Bradford, Yorks was “added hopefully” to his juvenilia: scribbling books of closely-written poems, stories and essays and neat typescripts typed up for him by kind girls.

PRI7_6_10juvenilia3So why did Jack decide to use this extra name?  Partly to distinguish himself from other John Priestleys (not an unusual name in his family or the region.  His grandfather was John, his father,  Jonathan).   The addition also gave him a more suitable, interesting, distinctive name for a writer.

So why did he choose “Boynton”?  We don’t actually know.  There is a village of that name in the East Riding of Yorkshire, near Bridlington.  Could Jack have seen the village on a family holiday to that popular seaside resort?  However he came by the name, B for Boynton served Jack Priestley rather well as a pen-name and he was to be J.B. Priestley for the rest of his literary career …

B1253_between_Bridlington_and_Boynton_-_Geograph_-_301466

The road to Boynton … (the B1253 between Bridlington and Boynton, by James Exon, licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sources and credits:

I am indebted to James Ogden for the suggestion that Jack found Boynton on a family holiday in Bridlington (“The name Boynton” p. 27-28, J.B. Priestley Society Newsletter, no. 24, Autumn 2011).

The road image is from the SABRE website, a vast compendium of images of Britain’s roads – the Roader’s Digest.

Priestley wrote about the juvenilia in the Swan Arcadian section of his memoir, Margin Released.  He gently mocked the literary pretensions of his teenage self, including the pompous pen-name, comparing J. Boynton to an “eighty years old retired clergyman” and sarcastically observing that “J. Boynton makes a bold frontal attack on his subject.”  Other than the hint of pretentiousness, he doesn’t actually explain the purpose or origin of the name.

The two reasons listed above come from an interview with Jacquetta Hawkes  cited in Vincent Brome’s biography of Priestley (Hamish Hamilton, 1988).  Jacquetta, J.B.’s third wife, would be likely to know and the reasons make perfect sense to me.

“Boynton” though awaits further explanation!

 

Always More Subtle: J.B. Priestley and Anthony Burgess

Q. Which well-known British author liked J.B. Priestley’s The Image Men so much he read it ten times?  A. Anthony Burgess.

Screenshot of images of Clockwork Orange

Burgess and Priestley have much in common.  Both remain famous on the basis of one iconic work above all: Burgess for the dystopian novella which became a controversial film, A Clockwork Orange (above), Priestley for An Inspector Calls (below).   Both were much more interesting and prolific writers than commonly thought.  Both wrote novels, plays, non-fiction, and masses of journalism.  Burgess also created symphonies and other musical works.  Although as far as I know JBP didn’t actually write music, it was so important to him that I think this counts as another connection.

Screenshot of images of Inspector calls

This shared experience underlies a perceptive and generous piece Burgess wrote for The Observer after Priestley’s death in 1984.  I could happily quote the whole thing as it shows such great understanding and appreciation of Priestley.  Here’s some of the most telling points:

“My generation had been warned off him by the intellectuals, who derided or patronised him … The fact is that Priestley was an intellectual himself, a man of wide erudition … He knew what the avant-garde novel was all about, but he preferred to work in the tradition of Smollett and Fielding … Of course, he was always more subtle than he usually wished to appear.  If he scorned experiment in his novels, he produced in the 1930s a series of plays which brought something wholly original to the theatre … He was perhaps the last of the literary men willing to spill out of the confines of his study and dare to be a public figure revered for what he stood for, and not just for what he wrote”.

The connections between Burgess and Priestley are explored in depth by Dr Andrew Biswell of the Burgess Foundation in the 2013 J.B. Priestley Society Annual Lecture,  English Anxieties, on 16 March.   Taking place at the Foundation, in Manchester, the event is free and all are welcome!    Society members are also invited to the AGM that morning.  Full details on the Society website.

Priestley on Podcast

Last Friday, the Guardian Books podcast featured Tom Priestley (JB’s son, who is a honorary graduate of the University of Bradford) and actor Roy Hudd celebrating J.B Priestley.  The occasion is the republication by Great Northern Books of English Journey, JB’s unforgettable 1930s travelogue, which records both the new Americanised England and the shocking poverty he saw.

Roses and Dogs’ Noses: Iris and the Priestleys

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 and J.B. Priestley outside Kissing Tree House, 1960s

Iris Murdoch and J.B. Priestley outside Kissing Tree House, 1960s, photographer unknown.

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 …”

A bit of GLAMour

I don’t think I have posted about GLAM before.  GLAM, the Group for Literary Archives and Manuscripts, aims to bring together archivists, librarians, curators, and anyone else interested in collecting, preservation, use and promotion of literary archives and manuscripts. The importance, international appeal, market value, and intellectual property issues make these archives distinctive and exciting but often difficult to manage.  The challenge is growing, as authors communicate more via diverse digital means.  The group offers a support network and has particular projects to help e.g. on cataloguing this kind of material.  We have a meeting at the John Rylands Library on Thursday.

Special Collections at Bradford holds several literary archives, which tend to be particularly popular and offer great scope for related activities.  These include the J.B. Priestley Archive, the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive, and, coming soon, the W. Riley (Windyridge author) Archive.

More Priestley press

“Priestley was an archetypal Yorkshireman, but also a citizen of the world”.  Great praise for Priestley from the author Margaret Drabble in the Yorkshire Post.  He is her favourite Yorkshire author.