Shelagh Delaney, 1960


Following on from the Billy Liar post and the theme of escape in the sixties, here’s playwright Shelagh Delaney talking about Salford in 1960. All of it is great, but from around 8.30 minutes in she starts to talk in particular about restlessness and the conflict of belonging/not belonging to a place. It’s again suggesting the ‘something more’ from Billy Liar’s and Liz’s discussion in the previous post.

Shelagh Delaney, Encore

It’s a great little film by Michael Winner for the BBC, and she seems to represent something wholly unaffected (or as much as you can be when being filmed) which is fairly rare then or now. ‘It’s presumptuous for me to talk about people like this, and to talk about the city like this,’ she says, ‘but the whole place is a curious, restless place… but right down at the bottom it’s secure as anything, like a rock… but for me living here is a peculiar thing… I couldn’t live here all my life, I’d be too restless.’

There’s such spirit that shines from her, even in just the opening scenes. Looking at other interview clips on YouTube, you can sense an undefinable wink in the eye at being put in situations where ‘something more’ just isn’t quite understood, whatever it might mean from one person to the next.


8 thoughts on “Shelagh Delaney, 1960

  1. Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

    Many of the outdoor scenes of Lean’s 1954 Hobson’s Choice were shot in Salford. I was amused when I viewed it recently by the thick white scum on the surface of the Irwell in a riverside scene. This was actually a by-product of the up-stream (Bury) 1950’s paper industry and could throw up huge, thick white clouds of high-floating scum in a heavy wind.

    I re-viewed Russell’s Delaney piece a few months ago. V evocative of my childhood & youth.

    Re Salford & Hobson’s Choice –

    • Thanks so much for comment – the scum on the water was bizarre, fascinating to hear the source. I’ve enjoyed Hobson’s Choice before and will be interested to find more of the locations: was made to watch it when young!

      It also really strikes you how gruesome the huge Victorian public buildings were when in decline too; makes you appreciate it was a period when the past could seem monstrous (and of course with the war in recent memory too).

  2. Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

    In the mid 50’s (must, from the classroom, have been school year 56/7) we watched through a classroom window as blocks of foam that I would now describe as resembling expanded polystyrene sheeting, that must have been two feet thick and, in some instances, six feet long, soared high in the air, slowly breaking up as they went. I thought until today that they originated at the Transparent Paper works (which stank vilely) on the Roch at Heap Bridge, but I realize now that I saw them upstream on the Irwell from its confluence with the Roch, so some other form of pollution, long gone, no doubt, must have been its source.

    I recall Heywood, where I grew up, as being very like the Salford of Lean’s Hobson’s Choice. Soot-darkened houses and cobbled streets (remember, as a small child, waking to the clatter of cotton mill-workers clogs as they walked to the 7:00 am shift, though clogs were gone by the mid-50’s and the mills themselves soon afterwards. A few surviving rows of back-to-back terraced houses, served by a couple of outdoor privies at each end (incredible to contemplate now), some Victorian gas standards, lit and extinguished by a gas-lighter, and, if you were up around 6:00 am (which I very rarely was) “knockers-up”.

    The smogs could be unbelieveable. Recall waiting for a Manchester bus one afternoon around ’55 or ’56, when the headlights of oncoming vehicles started to become visible when they were about 15 feet away (NOT an old man’s imagination here, I assure you). The 30 minute bus journey to Manchester took close to two hours.

    Towards the close of Mike Leigh’s “Naked”, Louise & Johnny sing “Take me back to Manchester when it’s raining” – “I want to smell the odours of the Irwell; I want to feel the soot get in me hair”. The song was written around 1950. I doubt that anyone born later than that date can now fully understand it (the coal soot did get in one’s hair – and, irritatingly, in one’s eyes.

    Remember that Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town” (1949) was written not about Dublin, as is now widely believed, but about Salford.

  3. Great stuff, thanks for sharing. My great grandad was a knocker-up for a while so have heard about that before! So much of this kind of detail is missed out today. Going much further back, my grandma was born in 1899 and when I was five or six in the 1970s used to stay there for long afternoons and hear all sorts of detail from her early days in Barnsley, my favourite being how kids when my grandad was little used a blown-up pig’s bladder as a football…

    • Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

      The mileage I could get this side of the Atlantic out of the line “My great grandad was a knocker-up for a while”!

      This Youtube post of MacColl and his wife Peggy Seeger singing “Dirty Old Town” has good, evocative accompanying shots of Salford in the 50’s & 60’s.

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