Tag Archives: Literature

The Calliphon Mystery …

Between 1953 and 1969 Calvin Wells wrote numerous columns for the Eastern Daily Press under the nom de plume ‘Calliphon’. Wells was a well-known physician of high social standing in East Anglia and it is possible he found greater freedom of expression writing through a pseudonym. Although many readers wrote letters of enquiry, Calliphon never […]

via Calliphon. — Putting Flesh on the Bones

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 …


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!


Brontes, Bollywood and JB: welcome to the Lit Fest!

Did you know Bradford has its own Literature Festival?  Over a hundred events celebrating the written and spoken word, from 15 to 24 May 2015, in a host of venues around the city.

The Festival has a distinctively Bradfordian flavour:


Bradford Reflections, by Tim Green – licence CC BY 2.0

  • Venture into the Undercliffe necropolis – at twilight …
  • Rediscover famous Bradfordians Humbert Wolfe and William Rothenstein and the city’s forgotten Jewish heritage
  • Explore the incredible textiles of India and the riches of Urdu poetry
  • Find out how Bollywood films portray male (often shirtless) beauty and style

Not to mention colleagues from Peace Studies at the University sharing their fascinating research: Dr Munro Price on Napoleon‘s downfall and Professor Paul Rogers discussing the rise of ISIS.

For venues, prices, tickets etc and many more events, check out the full programme on the Festival website.

Priestley, Documentary, Realism and Democracy: conference 25 October

Priestley, Documentary, Realism and Democracy: open one-day conference sponsored by the J.B. Priestley Society.

9.45-17.00 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.  25 October 2014.

There is still time to book a place at this fascinating conference, which includes Special Collections staff among the speakers.

PRI8_1_11 27 closeIt is eighty years since the publication of J.B. Priestley’s English Journey . The book influenced a whole generation on its appearance and has since inspired numerous responses and sequels. This conference aims both to do justice to that impact and also to consider wider issues raised by the documentary and social-realistic work of Priestley and his contemporaries in the Thirties and Forties.  Alison Cullingford will introduce delegates to the Heinemann Scrapbook, which shows how the publisher whipped up interest in Priestley’s controversial comments on English cities (image above).  Martin Levy will explore belatedness and Priestley’s social philosophy.  Other speakers will cover aspects of cinema, Orwell, Muir, social fiction and Priestley’s wartime suspense stories.

To find out more and book your place, see the conference mini-website.

Download the Programme.  JBPS 2014 Conference Running Order

Download the Poster.  JBPS_Conference_Poster

Forgotten Pleasures: Sheffield rediscovers Willie Riley

I see that I haven’t yet written about the splendid work being done on the popular fiction of the early 20th century at Sheffield Hallam University.  It’s time to put that right!  SHU has an excellent collection of such works.   This blog by Erica Brown chronicles the rediscovery of these often forgotten gems by a reading group.  There’s lots of overlap with our Special Collections – they’ve even been reading J.B. Priestley!

Recently the group turned their attention to the work of Willie Riley, whose archive we have at Bradford.  Riley is a wonderful example of an author who was a best-seller and a household name, thanks to his delightful debut Windyridge, but whose popularity has waned since.

Willie Riley (ref RIL12_3 p.5)

Willie Riley

Riley is now having a mini-revival, thanks to the efforts of former Bradford University student David Copeland, who has written extensively about Willie, uncovered archives and made many fascinating connections.  On 25 October 2013, David will talk about Willie as part of an event on Yorkshire writers during Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival.  Find out more in this article from Saturday’s Yorkshire Post.

Windyridge Revisited dustjacket

Windyridge Revisited dustjacket – my favourite dustjacket in Special Collections!

Two Great Novelists: J.B. Priestley and Charles Dickens

J.B. Priestley explained his admiration for Charles Dickens in an article in the magazine Everybody’s, 8 May 1954.  He felt that Dickens’ view of people was child-like: “He saw people, whether they appear as monsters or as enchanting drolls, as children see them.”: his characters, like Micawber or Pickwick, are not “mere caricatures” but have a fairytale power because created by a child’s imagination.

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens a pictorial biography by J.B. Priestley

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens a pictorial biography by J.B. Priestley

Priestley also praised Dickens’s social commitment, savage satire, and “horrible force” when writing about violent crime.  He noted his “extraordinary sensitiveness and delicate perception”, not perhaps qualities always linked with the 19th century author, but as Priestley said, apparent when he wrote from the point of view of David Copperfield or other unhappy children.

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens by J.B. Priestley

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens by J.B. Priestley

However, Priestley could be critical of Dickens.  He felt that the earlier rambling but brilliant poorly plotted works outshone the later ones which were stronger technically.  He also commented on how lop-sided Dickens’ world is, his morality crude, his plotting tedious, his love affairs trite.  Priestley readily admitted skipping dull or embarrassing bits.   For Priestley, it was the larger-than-life characters that made Dickens great, along with his zest for life, his sympathy and his humour, which was “best of all, as good as Shakespeare’s and far better than anybody else’s”.

Understandably given Priestley’s admiration for Dickens, there are many parallels between their works.  Inspired by Dickens and other 18th and 19th century writers, Priestley consciously chose to write broad good-humoured large scale novels: we can see a Dickensian flavour in the picaresque of The Good Companions, the sense of London as a character in Angel Pavement, the grotesques of The Image Men, Priestley’s evoking of the vanished Bradford in Bright Day … The other great parallel is their willingness to speak out about social abuses: Priestley’s great English Journey is as memorable as Dickens’ exposes of the evils of his time.  Dickens crops up again and again in Priestley, as the subject of books and articles and as an inspiration.  If you like Dickens, try Priestley; and if you like Priestley, try Dickens!

“Words, Magnificent Words, Wonderful Words”: Priestley on Shakespeare

A new insight into the world of the 17th century and the stories behind Shakespeare’s plays:  Shakespeare in 100 Objects, created by the Collections Team at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  Find out more about nightcaps, chamber pots, solstice dishes and a monk’s head spoon, with expert commentary from many Shakespeare scholars.

These objects have the richness and humanity that J.B. Priestley found in Shakespeare’s works.  Again and again he returned to Shakespeare in his books, his essays, his journalism.  Priestley revelled in Shakespeare’s stunning use of language, his humour, his tolerance …  Shakespeare (in Priestley’s view of him) had all the qualities he most admired in literature and culture:

“In his desire to keep a balance, his wrestling with the opposites … despite his immensely rich nature (and rich is surely his favourite word) and many-sided genius, he comes close to generations of ordinary Western men of intelligence and goodwill” (Literature and Western Man, 1960, from which the title quote also comes).

Priestley is particularly interesting when he discusses Shakespeare as a fellow  dramatist.  The chapter on Elizabethan literature in Literature and Western Man discussed the practical realities of the stage of the day, ending with “But with so many plays to find, put into rehearsal, and then perform, the work, worry and strain must have been wearing; we should not be surprised that Shakespeare retired, probably worn out, before he was fifty”.  Priestley spoke from experience:  his memoir, Margin Released (1962), includes a vivid chapter on the difficulties and craziness of theatrical production.

There is much more to be said about Priestley and Shakespeare, a theme to which I hope to return.  It is rather fitting that JB’s home in later life was in “Shakespeare Country”: the beautifully-named Kissing Tree House in Warwickshire.

Priestley Scholars in Print

A new arrival in Special Collections. Volume 11, October 2010 issue of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal, full of Priestley scholarship.  I particularly liked an article by Priestley’s bibliographer, Alan Day, exploring in detail J.B.’s relationship with Canada. Having missed the Priestley Society annual lecture of 2010, I was pleased to see it reprinted in this issue: Ken Smith discussed Priestley’s Literature and Western Man, shedding new light on this massive and rather neglected work.

The issue also contains two pieces by me, both available online, but printed for the benefit of the many Society members who do not use the web: the text of the oration for the award of honorary degree to Tom Priestley, and reflections on the series Priestley’s Finest Hour.

The journal itself is not currently available online.  Society members receive a copy, and it is held by ourselves, national libraries, and some other university libraries.

From Ackroyd to Zadie: JB and Britlit

I wrote the entry on J.B. Priestley for a new encyclopaedia, which will be an essential resource for those studying literature.  The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction is published by Wiley-Blackwell this December.

Arranged into three volumes covering British and Irish Fiction, American Fiction, and World Fiction, the encyclopaedia includes over 500 entries, and (to quote the web page):

  • “Features major writers and their key works.
  • Covers all genres and sub-genres of fiction in English across the twentieth-century, including crime fiction, science fiction, chick lit, the noir novel, naturalist fiction, and the avant-garde novel.
  • Deals with the major movements, debates, and rubrics within the field (Angry Young Men fiction, censorship and the novel, globalisation and the novel, modernist fiction, fiction and the film industry, historiographic metafiction, and rewritings of canonical English narratives)”.

I’ll add links to reviews as they appear.

(I made up Britlit – I think.  It could also be Britfic).

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.