Tastes of Honey: the Making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution – Selina Todd

Written in 2019 this is a biography of Shelagh Delaney the author of “A Taste of Honey” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taste-Honey-Modern-Plays/dp/0413316807/

“A Taste of Honey”
play by Shelagh Delaney

Delaney wrote “A Taste of Honey” when she was 19, and it premiered on stage in London in 1958. It was one of the first plays to be written about working class women and became known as one of the “kitchen sink” genre plays. Set in Salford it covered all the taboos of the time: illegitimacy, homosexuality, mixed-race sex. It was both villified and lauded at the same time.

This was a period of change in Britain. Women were beginning to demand equal pay, becoming dissatisfied with their roles as housewives and mothers. They were looking for independence, abortion was illegal as was homosexuality. Things would soon change during the “Swinging Sixties” as society became more youth centred and liberal and the old values of women as housemakers were broken down.

The snippets and vignettes of Delaney’s life are fascinating. Especially her relationship with Joan Littlewood the Left-wing theatre director. Delaney went on to have an illegitimaate daughter herself as does the female protagonist in the play. She never married and remained fiercely independent. She comes across in Todd’s writing as difficult and lazy, but there’s no denying she was at the forefront of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s.

In my opinion the author overstretches the Womens’ Lib aspect so that it becomes rather laboured and she rushes the last 30 years of Delaney’s life. However, I can see that compared to the first 30 years there was not that much to say. However, it was a book that gave birth to one of my favourite films “A Taste of Honey” starring Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin. The play was filmed in 1961. It is wistful, sad and evocative of working class Northern Britain in the 1960s. Back to back housing and decaying shipyards filmed in black and white making it even bleaker. I could watch it over and over so vibrant is the dialogue.

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