Sunday, 9 May 2010

Alan Sillitoe 1928-2010

I was saddened to hear of the death of Alan Sillitoe in April 2010 at the age of 82, as I’ve enjoyed and been influenced by the themes in many of his novels over the years, particularly ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, with its story of working class escapism from the drudgery and hard labour of the factory floor in post-war Britain. Sillitoe’s and also Stan Barstow’s ‘A Kind Of Loving’ were important novels for me in their sympathetic portrayal of ordinary working class lives in Northern England that never slipped into sentimentality or cliché. They always felt true and authentic.

They were working class writers writing about working class lives. This was important to me and their example gave me confidence in an interest I had in painting about some of my own experiences of the working class culture I grew up in. This eventually lead to me painting for several years about the ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Mornings’ in the West Yorkshire towns of Dewsbury and Batley, where I found myself living on and off for several years.

pastel on paper, 1992, Shaun Morris
Sillitoe’s ‘The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner’ is my favourite story by him, which is a short story written as a monologue of a Borstal boy who finds mental freedom only during his daily cross-country run. He tells of the theft that led to his incarceration, and ‘the outlaw death’ that his father died; then he deliberately loses a prestigious cross-country race to spite the values of the authorities. I really love its anger and the rebellion of the boy’s act.
The film starring Tom Courteney is also great, as is of course the brilliant ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ with Albert Finney. Although the latter can appear a little dated, it still possesses a real crackle and fizz thanks to the brilliant performances and the direction of Karl Reisz, and of course the magnificent Johnny Dankworth soundtrack.

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