Tuesday 23 August 2011

Stan Barstow: When The Raging Calms


The movie posters announced ‘A Kind Of Loving that knew
no wrong – until it was too late!’ It was a novel which
defined its time. Now Andrew Darlington meets Stan Barstow,
and asks what happens when that Raging Calms…?


There are no villains in Stan Barstow’s fiction. Only victims. When you think in terms of his working class background, and the outlook you could expect to develop from such roots, that may seem strange. Yet the vehemence and two-dimensional political polemics you might expect from a writer who so obviously retains an understanding of those who did not so escape, is missing. Politically, Barstow’s characters say only what he feels they would say, never what he feels they should be saying. Possibly it’s the legacy of West Yorkshire hard-headedness that disallows such a Barstow Socialist ‘Grand Gesture’? Or perhaps it’s a form of Thomas Hardyesque acceptance? – his stories contain a fine thread of the irony that is so characteristic of Hardy. But the most obvious reason for Barstow’s apolitical style is his interest – not in issues, but individuals.

‘A Kind Of Loving’ – his second novel, but first published novel, came in 1960, and it’s a book that exactly defines its time. Becoming a movie that perfectly catches the realist New Wave Of British Cinema. Book, and film, came as part of a creative Northern Uproar of gritty ‘Angry Young’ writers, including Alan Sillitoe (‘Saturday Night And Sunday Morning’), John Braine (‘Room At The Top’), Shelagh Delaney (‘A Taste Of Honey’), and David Storey (‘This Sporting Life’), each with a strong regional and – by implication, left-political bias. Yet ‘A Kind Of Loving’ is essentially a romance, with all its misunderstandings and uncertainties. Twenty-year-old office draughtsman Vic Brown is infatuated with Ingrid, and finally gets a date with her for Wednesday, ‘…I just don’t know how I’ll live till then’. Everything seems to be going well, until for their third date she turns up with ‘friend’ Dorothy, and they endure an uneasy three-way dialogue until the wary truce breaks down in a vivid slanging match. Is Ingrid trying to finish with him? Is she using Dorothy as an excuse? He overcomes his reservations, and asks her out again – yet she seems to be standing him up. Is it over already? No. She sends him a sweet letter, and the making-up leads to a breathlessly tactile feeling-up on the Ravensnook Park bandstand. ‘Vic… you don’t think I’m common, do you?’ It’s all narrated in Vic’s racy first person ‘historic present’ vernacular (girls are ‘bints’, ‘tarts’ or ‘birds’). A style that talks just the way you do ‘when you’re thinking yourself, I suppose’ he muses while skimming brother-in-law David’s ‘Ulysses’.

The tone is exactly right, each mood-change itemising the fine now-lost nuances of slight class signifiers. ‘The Old Lady doing her impression of Lady Docker.’ The bickering extended family dialogue at sister Chrissie’s opening wedding scenes flowing to-and-fro with a perfectly transcribed naturalism catching the various Aunties and Uncles with the precision of a time-frozen group-photograph. Vic’s house has three plaster geese ‘flying across the wallpaper’. Ingrid has a posh house, ‘two-thousand five-hundred at today’s price, I reckon’. The bantering friction between Vic and ‘the Old feller’ (‘I’m nobbut a collier, y’know, not a mill-owner’). A new generation with expectations higher than their parents ever dreamed of, in transition from blue-collar to white-collar office jobs, growing into comparative prosperity. Yes – you feel, this is how it was. A more morally constricted time. Vic’s feelings towards Ingrid oscillate, cooling from infatuation to ‘passing fancy’ where ‘sex and dream have got all mixed up inside me’, into the obligatory marriage when she falls pregnant (made even more ironic when she loses the child).

‘The Daily Telegraph’ at first compares Barstow – stylistically, to Emile Zola, and the analogy could be more telling than it at first appears. In a particularly indicative passage in Zola’s notes for ‘Germinal’ the French novelist outlines ideas that could be taken as the basis for those of Barstow’s. ‘To get a broad effect’ Zola writes ‘I must have my two sides as clearly contrasted as possible and carried to the very extremes of intensity. So that I must start with all the woes and fatalities which weigh down on the miners. Facts, not emotional pleas… The bosses are not deliberately vindictive… On the contrary, I must make the Bosses humane so long as their direct interests are not threatened; no point in foolish tub-thumping. The worker is the victim of the fact of existence – capital, competition, industrial crises’. As a result of these stated intentions Zola even makes the mine-owner, Monsieur Hennebeau, envious of his striking employees who he imagines ‘went off fornicating behind the hedges, laying girls without bothering about who had done so before’. He has food in plenty, but that doesn’t prevent him ‘groaning in anguish’. The stance is beyond issues. It views all as victims.

To Vic, commenting on a French-language film-version of ‘Gervaise’ seen by colleague Rawley, Zola ‘sounds like a game, like Bingo or Ludo or Canasta’. No, corrects Rawley, he was ‘an excellent writer. Surprisingly modern to say he wrote sixty or seventy years ago’. Not ‘sexy’ – but ‘outspoken for his time’, ‘shall we say ‘direct’?’ Wilf Cotton, the central character of Barstow’s ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’, knows Zola’s work too. ‘He found (Zola) over-blown, but admired his brutal energy in ‘La Bete Humaine’ and the power of his narrative sweep in ‘L’Assommoir’ and ‘Germinal’ ’. Wilf Cotton, a struggling writer, probably reflects many of his creator’s literary attitudes. Barstow, for example, was initially – inevitably, also compared to DH Lawrence, a charge Cotton dismisses with ‘there are resemblances, but I think they’re probably all superficial’.

Stanley Barstow was the only son of a coal-miner, born in 1928 in the West Yorkshire town of Horbury. They lived in Shepstye Road, and he was first educated at the local Council School. To borrow Wilf Cotton’s interpretation ‘he was perhaps a little brighter at school than many, but not as clever as some. When a scholarship at eleven took him to the Grammar School at Calderford he felt little sense of movement away from his class.’ Barstow’s own eleven-plus took him to Ossett Grammar, near Wakefield. He later began his working life in the Drawing Office of a local Engineering Firm (‘Dawson Whittaker & Sons’ for Vic, ‘Charles Roberts Engineering’ of Horbury Junction for Stan). For, although his fiction is never directly autobiographical, there are undeniably autobiographical clues that can be traced through his real-life ‘In My Own Good Time’. His father’s name is Wilfred (as Wilf Cotton), his father plays cornet in the Gawthorpe Victoria Brass Band (as Vic’s father plays trombone in the local band). One of Barstow’s colleagues in the drawing office quits after a row about pay, very similar to the incident in ‘A Kind Of Loving’.

He began writing short stories in his spare time, an event precisely dated to September 1951, soon after his marriage to Connie (nee Kershaw), who ‘put the idea into my head’. ‘I was 23 (he told a 1969 interviewer), I didn’t think for a moment anybody would take me seriously as a writer or that there was anything in me worth taking seriously. I began to regret the years of slacking at school but I was looking for some kind of creative outlet’. Soon, like Wilf, ‘the need to express the throb and quiver of life on the page, had become part of him’. ‘Once I got underway and became hooked, I learned very fast’ (‘In My Own Good Time’). But ‘I sold nothing in that first phase. The envelopes came back’, until eventually ‘I sold four short stories in eight years’, some of them broadcast on the BBC, including the then-popular ‘Light Programme’ series ‘Morning Story’. ‘I’d earned £77 18s 6d’, enough to buy a Remington portable typewriter. ‘Certainly there was no question of my taking myself seriously, of thinking I had anything serious to say, but if there were people making money by writing for these publications, I might as well become one of them…’

Until the publication, and instant success of ‘A Kind Of Loving’ (through Michael Joseph, then the distinctive orange-jacket Penguin paperback). It became the ‘Book Society choice of 1960’, with the sale of movie-rights close behind, enabling him to turn fully professional inside two years. ‘As a miner’s son’ he confessed, ‘I had to think twice about such a step. My mother could never understand how I live and even I’m a bit surprised with myself when I think about it seriously. There’s an idea floating around that I made so much money from the film ‘A Kind Of Loving’ that I never need do any more work. That’s not true, though it did enable me to give up a bread and butter job.’ But ‘I was learning, and the first thing I learned was that even with a reasonably fluent flow of words such as I could command, writing insincerely rarely works. Those who write meretriciously have to believe in it while they’re doing it.’

Meanwhile, Vic is still exhibiting all the feelings of unease that could so easily have been developed by other writers into political condemnation. The disturbing suspicion that there should be more to life than the sordid cycle he’s trapped into. Following a disastrous first period of marriage, he determines to accept the situation. They try again. He sublimates his unease in favour of compromise. He is Zola’s ‘victim of the fact of existence’. Barstow’s characters are continually pressured by circumstances. Buffeted by their feelings of responsibility and reacting to simple incidents of human relationships. They inevitably compromise or acquiesce. ‘The Desperadoes’, a collection of short stories published as his second book features – among others, “The Human Element” (1961). A story featuring Joe, a rather dull, unimaginative youth content to spend his life in the factory, cleaning his motor-cycle at weekends. He’s pressured – unwillingly, into a country outing with his Landlady, her husband and daughter Thelma who he doesn’t really like, but wants even less to offend. On the bus ride to the country, he goes out of his way to make it clear he doesn’t consider himself Thelma’s ‘young man’, but the reader knows that already he’s a marked man (‘this is where my husband and I came courting’ drools the Landlady!). Following a furtive peep up her dress and an unintended – at least by him, feel of her breast, he finds himself engaged to Thelma. As the story closes Joe says he’ll break the engagement, but the reader’s left with the sneaking suspicion that he’s as good as wed. Perhaps here Barstow hints at a kind of Shavian (‘Man And Superman’) idea of woman as the hunter, man the unwilling, but so-easily snared prey? It seems more likely he’s just telling a story about recognisable individuals in a particular situation.

It’s possible to view each of the stories in ‘The Desperadoes’ as variations on this theme. That of the ‘not-so-tender-trap’. Each one develops the ‘victims of the fact of existence’ idea in a slightly different direction. The emotional trap of the predatory marriage-hungry woman. The financial trap of poverty. The trap of remorse, of bitterness, of aging. Each character never quite aware of the nature of their own particular cage. They accept, adding to the irony that becomes apparent as each tale evolves. People are meshed in trivia, an emotional and intellectual wasteland partly of their own creation, partly the result of the corrosive effect of their social environment. A 1950’s atmosphere pervades the collection to a greater or lesser degree, with the directionless violence of the title story’s Teddy-Boys near-definitive of their time. To be fully appreciated their actions should be seen in the context of the Palais Dance, Brylcreme, DA hairstyles, crepe soles and ‘all the latest Pop stuff here for the fans, Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Steele, and Elvis’. Even the protagonist’s name – Vince, perfectly catches cheap Rock ‘n’ Roll pseudo-Americanisms (remember Vince Eager, Vince Taylor…?). Barstow’s rare attempt to make Vince a spokesman for his generation by blaming the Bomb, and the War – the effect of which was still very much apparent, is largely unconvincing. Although the roots of their violence can theoretically be traced to such causes (evidenced by Jeff Nuttall’s excellent ‘Bomb Culture’ history of teenage dissatisfaction), surely it was more intuitive, lacking eloquence or exact motivation? It was ‘felt’, rather than articulated. Yet the story conveys its fifties feel very well. And Vince finds his own particular trap when an explosion of pent-up anger and frustration results in murder. With near-Faustian precision, the violence that is to Vince his means of escape, winds up ensnaring him.

A theme that’s equally well-exploited elsewhere. A wife kills the caged rabbits that – she feels, are alienating her husband’s affection. Thereby further estranging what she’s attempting to salvage. The wife who locks the door on her drunken husband, causing his death, just as he’s won his longed-for Pools Dividend. Lack of personal communication is an emotional trap. The tragedy is not that a wife gets her long hair caught in the factory machinery (another attempted expression of freedom that rebounds horribly?), but that her husband is unable to reach any meaningful level of communication with her. Or the husband who unwittingly despoils the ‘sanctity’ of the couple’s first home, in his wife’s eyes, by trashing the paint-work to spite the next occupants. There are no villains, only victims. Finger-pointing, or Zola’s ‘tub-thumping’ would be too easy. For Barstow is not a political writer. Nor a consciously philosophical writer. The stories, the situations, are the statements. The fact of the working-class economic and cultural deprivation that’s the unspecified spectre behind these ‘traps’ is never stated.

Never prolific – with a total career-output of ‘a dozen novels and forty-odd short stories’, Barstow instead becomes an early-adaptor at maximising the media-spread of his work, from radio and TV versions, to film and stage productions. The next novel ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’, soon also appears as a radio and stage play. Then ‘Joby’ – an evocative story of an eleven-year-old boy’s ‘last summer of innocence’, is adapted by Barstow into a two-part TV series filmed in his Horbury home-town. ‘A Raging Calm’ from 1968 is destined to become a successful television serial too, paving the way for his treatment of the Winifred Holtby classic novel ‘South Riding’, also for ITV. Some of the short-stories from the ‘A Season With Eros’ collection will be adapted for ‘The Cost Of Loving’ TV series. His small-scale character-driven plots are ideally suited to either page or screen. Although the process of transfer – as in his TV-rewrite of “The Human Element” (with Thelma played by Paula Wilcox), can alter emphasis. Where the original closes with Joe’s unfocused doubts about his impending marriage, the extended revision shows the ‘snare’ of the marriage to be more double-edged. There is, he suggests, no alternative but bleak acceptance of its compromises.

Yet, in whatever medium, Barstow writes most convincingly about things he knows. About his West Riding background. About working people and their problems. Cressley, the town that features in so much of his fiction is based, in part, on Dewsbury, ‘a stone town, I preferred the stone’ (‘odd… to find how much sensuality was bottled up behind the respectable exterior in this town’ he comments in ‘A Raging Calm’). One of his characters even takes the name of another local town, Sam Skelmanthorpe. While ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’ speaks eloquently of a personal drive to escape from the meaningless cycle of industrial factory-based life-styles. It is probably more autobiographical than any of his other books…


I first meet Stan Barstow in 1973. By then he was an established literary figure living in Goring Park Avenue in Ossett with wife Connie, plus son Neil and daughter Gillian, in ‘a big old stone-fronted house’ built by a Victorian speculator. With a high local profile, maintaining his interest in Brass Band culture to the extent of introducing concerts at the local Town Hall, and competing in the Inter-pub Quiz and dominoes team at his local – ‘The Little Bull’ (his team lost). As for books, he was sitting with Jeff Nuttall and poet George Kendrick on the ‘Yorkshire Arts Association’ Literary Panel. And most weekends drove some fifty miles to a little writer’s cottage in a terrace of three rented from the painter Lawrence Toynbee in Ganthorpe, a hamlet in a corner of the Castle Howard estate. I’d written about him in a literary ‘underground’ magazine. He contacts me in response to my essay. And invites me round. The house, enforced by his status, is intimidating. I’m suitably intimidated. The bristling beard familiar from the book-jackets and magazine features. Music playing from an impressive hi-fi system, and I recall a character in ‘A Raging Calm’ commenting ‘whether you believed in god or not, a love of this radiant music was surely in itself a passport to whatever heaven existed’ (speaking of Bruckner).

This was my first encounter with the writer who’d begun with Vic’s formless disquiet, and evolved through Wilf Cotton’s literary aspirations. And it was a highly politicised time. Rock vinyl was proclaiming the inadequacies of the political establishment, modern classical composer Hans Werner Henze was premiering his works under the red flag, and Jean Paul Sartre, prophet of existentialism, was distributing radical propaganda at factory gates. Art was expected to be ‘valid’. The artist, the writer, the ‘creator’ was expected to point directions. So it wasn’t difficult for me to make the accusation that, as a writer no longer financially forced to accept the restrictions of working class culture, it was easy for Barstow to eulogise its nobility. It was not difficult to dismiss Barstow’s ‘revolt’ in purely personal terms. Writing, especially novels dealing with experiences and situations so obviously open to political analysis – such as ‘A Kind Of Loving’, could form a potential direct means of attacking the sterility he portrays. Literature can, and arguably should offer a viable alternative to the race for the capitalist ‘plastic carrot’. It can point questions, it can raise doubts – it can offer solutions, it can even use its capacity to release ideas to become the solution. And to be the catalyst of individual change is to be the instigator of social change.

But, having fought his way out of the restrictions of social injustice, perhaps Stan Barstow’s resentment has served its purpose? After all, Wilf Cotton finds ‘the gratification (in writing) came with the knowledge that his people, among whom he so often felt alien, respected achievement even in a field strange to them’. Like so many of his characters who haven’t rebelled against the ‘repressive, inhibiting atmosphere, with Puritanism and philistinism almost oozing out of the stones’ (1969 interview), ‘so much as try to wriggle out of it, until in the end they are forced to live with’ it. It was so easy for me to demand why his youthful personal resentment had not been extended to become a judgement of society…

‘Now then Arthur, that’s enough’ censures Vic’s Old Lady, ‘there’s no need to get arguin’. (He’s) entitled to his opinion.’

‘No man’s entitled to an opinion till he knows the facts. I’m just straightenin’ him out’ counters his Old Feller.

So argue it this way. There was, after all, the example of John Braine who – having attained his ‘Room At The Top’, went on to embrace the right-wing philosophies his early novels satirised. Perhaps Barstow was disguising a similar about-face? Can this switch be substantiated by his novels? ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’ defines the lines of demarcation between writers who are ‘creators’, and those who are ‘caterers’. Cotton, and therefore presumably Stan Barstow’s allegiances lie with the former. At the time the phrase ‘pure literature’ was in terminal decline. The idea that ‘creative’ literature could be above life, impartial to social conditions, divorced from any greater reality and concerned only with its own internal logics, was seen as the fallacy it is and always has been. After all, any product of the imagination, just as any selected fact, when communicated through the mass-media becomes opinion. The pulp love story in the woman’s magazine, just as the advertisements that frame it, promote a definition of what is normal, hence defining the standards by which other’s live life, and are made to appear to live desirable or undesirable lives, from which behaviour patterns and standards are assimilated. Shouldn’t the creative novelist take that into consideration? By writing, as Barstow appears to, on the premise of surface reality, by reflecting and thereby confirming those standards, isn’t he helping to perpetuate them?

In ‘Close The Coal-House Door’, an early piece by Barstow’s contemporary – Hull playwright Alan Plater, there’s a more blatant left-wing bias, almost to the point of then-trendy Socialist Realism. It’s a play dealing idealistically with the history of West Riding Trade Union activity, with a ‘message’ that hits you like a thirty-ten Continental super-truck. Yet there’s a nagging suspicion that had Barstow treated the same subject, his observational skill at characterisation could have infused an added humanity, a greater fluidity of issues, making it not only a more convincing illustration of the miner’s grievances, but a more effective vehicle for the ideas too. Yet, time and time again Barstow’s work reflects political antipathy.

‘I’m not going to peddle… propaganda’, declares Wilf Cotton, demanding ‘wouldn’t (the Socialists) let you all stand on street corners if it furthered his ends? With him it’s the cause for the sake of the cause. It’s not the struggle at each stage for the righting of a separate injustice’. He goes on to accuse the novel’s Union activist of working for ‘a complete change of system, for absolute power’. That ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’ passage is closely paralleled in ‘A Raging Calm’. ‘The average Labour voter, for instance, is as reactionary as most Tories. He’s a hanger, a flogger, a keeper-down of homosexuals and an advocate of sending the black man back where he came from’. He balances the comments with the observation that ‘the only thing is, there’s a bloody sight more excuse for his thinking that way than there is for the others’. Although the book’s main theme is marital infidelity, a large section of it is devoted to local by-elections. Yet never are issues allowed to interfere with characterisation, except when Simpkins opines ‘every (political) issue was one of conscience’. A stance that seems to reflect the writer’s own. Barstow writes, again through the words of Wilf Cotton ‘we only vote the so-and-so’s in; we can’t do their job for them’. A political philosophy that remains curiously aloof and neutral. ‘I’m not a political animal, just a human being. I’m prepared to see all sides of an immediate question… that’s where the confusion comes in.’ An apoliticisation that only becoming open-ended when he adds ‘in an age of doubt and anxiety isn’t the other side of the coin a healthy questioning of values and standards and an urge towards reform?’

Repeatedly, Barstow’s fiction exhibits this tradition of the ‘total view’. Perhaps he’s saying that where there’s total understanding of the system, black and white politics present only incomplete pictures? That strict lines between ‘us and them’ adopted for the sake of political expediency, are therefore misleading? It’s a stance referring clear back to Zola’s ‘Germinal’ observation, that the class system and its materialist basis enslaves the apparent enslaver as well as the obviously enslaved. That the entire hierarchy of capital is constructed from tiers of dissatisfaction. ‘I don’t like totalitarianism of either the right or the left’ (‘Ask Me Tomorrow’). But is that really enough?

I doubt if any writer could have captured the drab meaninglessness of the factory environment, and its inherent frustrations, as Barstow does in ‘A Kind Of Loving’ without first experiencing those frustrations. And though ‘A Kind Of Loving’ now seems like a time-capsule from another world, it had a momentum of its own, and there were sequels. ‘If someone had told me to leave the first novel on its own, he might have had a case. But once the second was written, a third was needed to finish the story.’ So ‘Watchers On The Shore’, time-fixed by opening with the Cuba Crisis, is the unsatisfactory second instalment of what is now termed ‘The Vic Brown Trilogy’. An adequate novel, defined by a period in which Vic leaves Cressley to squirm and struggle through the pain of infidelity as he waits for Ingrid to join him, it inevitably loses the urgency and concision of its progenitor. When he follows Conroy to Joyce & Walstock in the more anonymous suburban Essex of Longford, the tale losing both focus – what Barstow calls ‘no frame around’ it, and grounding. Although Wilf Cotton gets a walk-on part as a northern writer refocusing south. It continues Vic’s ‘is this all?’ questioning, through to his painful final-chapter rejection of compromise, and determined break with Ingrid. Until the appearance of ‘The Right True End’ in 1976 brings the cycle to a close, with the end of his marriage, Vic is now a divorced man in London, meeting actress Donna Pennyman for a second time.

In the meantime, in the world outside of literature, those who inherit Vic’s direct problems remain, in intensified and complexified forms. Appearances alter during the transition from fifties through sixties, and beyond, but the basic anger stays unchanged. Frustration of potential is as corrosive to both self and society now as then. The suppression of natural creative energies is just as applicable to Barstow’s Teddy-Boy Desperadoes as Anthony Burgess/Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ Droog superpunk of the fictional 1990’s. Or ‘Trainspotting’. Or their counterparts today. The garb, the scale changes, the frustrations remain the same. While Barstow’s sequels shift markedly from the original’s vague dissatisfactions, there’s no discernible connection to the social upheavals of the late-sixties, and no apparent purchase on the 1970’s, only a gradual acceptance of the inevitability of compromise. As time alters circumstances.

Yet Barstow, unlike his creation, escaped the trap. His writing provided the wings to outdistance Vic’s suffocating spiritual vacuity. But he must have escaped with an acute awareness of what he’d escaped from. His writing provides undeniable proof of that. Undoubtedly his position as a writer offers just as many frustrations of a different nature (such as upstart articles in literary magazines?). Yet they are problems concerned with self-determination and creation. Don’t get me wrong – I admire Barstow’s work. There are few living writers who can encapsulate and ‘fix’ the complexity of relationships, particularly within the Northern industrial context, as he can. I’m also happy with the arguments he does advance in his books, that of the ‘victims of the fact of existence’. I don’t expect polemics. Surely the mere exchange of one dogma for another is to be condemned? Yet the niggling feeling remains, that with Barstow’s unique insight, combined with his unparalleled ability to express that insight, perhaps there could be, perhaps there even should be, a little more concern with direct issues.

Ultimately a writer writes as his conscience and powers of creativity dictate. To ask otherwise would be as unreasonable as it would be futile. It could be argued that Barstow captures the reality of a compromise that is far more a facet of life than the revolutionary slogan. That by portraying the compromise – by giving voice to the ‘raging calm’, he’s making a political statement far more effective than blatant sloganeering. A truth made apparent, rather than imposed. Ideas to be assimilated, if unconsciously so, by his readers. He presents the reality of a situation, leaving the reader to decide its implications. And if what was once bitingly current now seems a heartbeat away from costume drama, and Vic’s original preoccupations with pair-bonding and marriage seem inexplicable in today’s easy commitment-free times, his dilemma still prompts you – the reader, to re-examine the choices in your own life, your own compromises and the might-have-beens of your own failed relationships. Is that enough? The answer to that question probably decides the writer’s status as ‘creator’ or ‘caterer’…

Back then, in his front room in Goring Park Avenue, Stan Barstow fields my accusations with good-natured indulgence, arguing back reasonably. At one point he leans forward to assert to me “I’ll tell you what the young committed writer should be doing now, working with the immigrant population, writing about them.” He said that to me over forty years ago. I’ve thought about it many times since. His instincts, of course, were absolutely correct. Decades before Zadie Smith, Monica Ali or Hanif Kareshi. Except, of course, that it was essential for such writers to emerge from within that community, not from outside it.

He closes his autobiography with ‘I have lived by my writing since 1962. I have brought up my children and provided for those it has been my duty to support. That this has been achieved solely through my own efforts, without subsidy, grants, paid fellowships or awards with monetary gifts attached should, I feel, be a cause for some pride. It has all been worked for, year on year. I have been a professional. I have survived.’ Perhaps that’s enough?

STAN BARSTOW (28 July 1928 – 1 August 2011):

Following the original publication of this feature Stan Barstow moved to Pontardawe in South Wales, where he lived with his partner Diana Griffiths. His children, Gillian and Neil Barstow, his grandson Elliot and his wife Connie Barstow, still live in the Wakefield area…

1960 –
‘A KIND OF LOVING’ novel (Michael Joseph)

1961 –
‘THE DESPERADOES’ short stories (Michael Joseph) features “Freestone At The Fair”, “The Actor”, “The Fury”, “Living And The Dead”, the story from which the collection takes its title, and “The Human Element”

1962 –
‘ASK ME TOMORROW’ novel (Michael Joseph), + ‘Twenty Pieces Of Silver’ short story in ‘Argosy’ (Oct), and ‘A Kind Of Loving’ film, John Schlesinger’s debut as director, scripted by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, starring Alan Bates (Vic) and June Ritchie (Ingrid), Thora Hird (Mrs Rothwell), Jack Smethurst (Conroy), James Bolam (Les), Leonard Rossiter (Whymper). It cost £165,000 to make, and grosses £450,000 in the UK alone (DVD Momentum Pictures 2001).

1963 –
‘Estuary’ and ‘Love And Music’ short stories in ‘Argosy’ (July and Dec issues)

1964 –
‘JOBY’ novel (Michael Joseph), + ‘A Kind Of Loving’ BBC radio play, ‘The Desperadoes’ BBC radio play, ‘The Human Element’ ATV-TV play, ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’ play written with Alfred Bradley at Sheffield Playhouse, ‘Casual Acquaintance’ short story in ‘Argosy’ (Nov)

1965 – ‘The Luck Of The Game’ BBC-TV episode of ‘Z-Cars’, + ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’ BBC radio-play, ‘A Kind Of Loving’ play written with Alfred Bradley at Sheffield Playhouse

1966 –
‘THE WATCHERS ON THE SHORE’ novel (Michael Joseph), + ‘The Pity Of It All’ ABC-TV play, ‘A World Inside’ Granada-TV documentary, ‘Ask Me Tomorrow’ in June 1966 as a play-text by Alfred Bradley (Samuel French)

1967 –
‘The Pity Of It All’ BBC radio play

1968 –
‘THE RAGING CALM’ novel (Michael Joseph), + ‘THROUGH THE GREEN WOODS’ as anthology editor (EJ Arnold), ‘Bright Day’ BBC radio play adapted from JB Priestley

1969 –
‘THE HUMAN ELEMENT’ short stories from ‘The Desperadoes’ (Longman), + ‘An Enemy Of The People’ adapted from Ibsen for Harrogate Festiva1, ‘End Of An Old Song’ short story in ‘Argosy’ (May)

1970 –
‘Listen For The Trains, Love’ musical play for Sheffield Playhouse, + ‘Lines Of Battle’ Granada-TV episode for 52-part ‘A Family At War’ series created by John Finch , ‘The Assailants’ short story in ‘Argosy’ (Dec)

1971 –
‘A SEASON WITH EROS’ short stories (Michael Joseph, an Corgi paperback), + ‘A Kind Of Loving’ play-text (Blackie), ‘The Watchers On The Shore’ BBC radio play, ‘Stringer’s Last Stand’ play written with Alfred Bradley for York Theatre Royal, ‘Mind You, I Live Here’ BBC-TV Omnibus film, ‘Huby Falling’ short story in ‘Argosy’ (March)

1972 –
‘Stringer’s Last Stand’ as BBC radio play, and play-text (Samuel French)

1973 -
‘The Pity Of It All’ radio-play broadcast in Radio Four’s ‘Afternoon Theatre’ series in May
1974 –
‘A Raging Calm’ Granada-TV 7-part drama, directed by June Howson & Gerry Mill, with Alan Badel, Diana Coupland and Nigel Havers + ‘South Riding’ 13-part Yorkshire-TV drama adaptated from the Winifred Holtby novel, directed by James Ormerod & Alastair Reid with Dorothy Tutin, Nigel Davenport and Hermione Baddely, ‘We Could Always Fit A Sidecar’ BBC radio play from ‘The Human Element’ (voted ‘Best Radio Drama Script of 1974’ by the Writer’s Guild)

1975 –
‘Joby’ Yorkshire-TV 2-part drama, with Richard Tolan and David Clayforth

1976 –
‘THE RIGHT TRUE END’ novel (Michael Joseph), + ‘A CASUAL ACQUAINTANCE’ short stories from ‘A Season With Eros’ (Longman)

1977 –
‘Joby’ text of TV-play (Blackie), + ‘We Could Always Fit A Sidecar’ text of radio-play from ‘Out Of The Air’ (Longman), ‘The Cost Of Loving’ seven Yorkshire-TV plays including ‘The Human Element’ with Paula Wilcox

1978 –
‘Travellers’ BBC2 ‘Premiere’ series film, + ‘The Right True End’ BBC radio play, ‘An Enemy Of The People’ play-text (Michael Joseph)

1980 –
‘A BROTHER’S TALE’ novel (Michael Joseph)

1982 –
‘A Kind Of Loving’ 10-part Granada-TV drama covering all three Vic Brown novels, produced by Pauline Shaw, directed by Oliver Horsbrugh & Gerry Mills and Jeremy Summers, starring Clive Wood (Vic) and Joanne Whalley (Ingrid), with Susan Penhaligon and Constance Chapman, + ‘The Vic Brown Trilogy’ single-volume edition (Michael Joseph)

1983 –
‘A Brother’s Tale’ 3-part Granada-TV drama, directed by Les Chatfield, with Trevor Eve, June Ritchie (from ‘A Kind Of Loving’ 1962 movie!) and Kevin McNally

1984 -
‘THE GLAD EYE AND OTHER STORIES’ (Michael Joseph), + ‘The Human Element & Albert’s Part’ two TV-play texts (Blackie)

1986 –
‘JUST YOU WAIT AND SEE’ novel (Michael Joseph)

1987 –
‘B-MOVIE’ novel (Michael Joseph)

1988 –
‘The Apples Of Paradise’ BBC-radio play

1989 –
‘GIVE US THIS DAY’ novel (Michael Joseph)

1990 –
‘Foreign Parts’ BBC-radio play

1991 –
‘NEXT OF KIN’ novel (Michael Joseph)

1993 –
‘The Man Who Cried’ Tyne Tees-TV screenplay adapted from Catherine Cookson, directed by Michael Whyte, with Ciaran Hinds, Gemma Craven and Kate Buffery + ‘My Son, My Son’ 5-part BBC-radio drama from Howard Spring

2001 –
‘IN MY OWN GOOD TIME’ autobiography (Smith Settle) launched 24th October at Bradford ‘National Museum Of Photography Film & TV’


Revised version of a feature originally published in:
‘LUDDS MILL no.9’ (UK – September 1973)


Anonymous said...

I am glad that you saw the underlying political structure of his midterm novel, A Raging Calm. I interviewed Stan Barstow in 1972 or thereabouts; he told me he had attempted to portray the liberal's dilemma in this novel, but none of the reviewers had picked up on it. You mentioned Alan Plater; I can see no 'trendy left-wing' posturing in Plater's work; he was a man, like Stan, who lived close to the ground of his own community and saw how it had been devastated by Mrs Thatcher's experiment in liberal economics. A more interesting comparison might be with David Mercer, born in Wakefield in 1928, a good year for writers. In his play After Haggerty, Mercer examined the posturing of the committed writer who lives an easy life in London, but who looks back with sadness to the failed social experiment of countries run according to Marxist orthodoxy. Stan's only comment to me on Mercer was, 'I don't see things as David does'. Another apt comparison might be with Raymond Williams and his novel Border Country; Williams thought a writer could be openly political, a position about which Barstow was wary. Still, you draw an attractive picture of Stan's life in Ossett, a town with a real community and roots which nourished the writer. Remember too he was brought up a strict Methodist and was taken to chapel three times on Sunday by his parents. (Listen to his interview with Michael Parkinson on Desert Island Discs.) I think Stan Barstow's Christian roots (though he said he was an atheist) need to be examined. 'How do we find decent, honourable ways to live?' was what he told me, the theme of all his fiction.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who love the short stories and novels of Stan Barstow, please consult the blog 'Ossett, the History of a Yorkshire Town'. There is much essential information on Stan's early life and on the landscape of his early fiction, in particular the context in which he wrote A Kind of Loving.
It is revealing to read how he left Wakefield's Rotary Club over an issue involving the racism of some of the club's members.
The blog has some touching family photographs.
It will suffice until we have a full biography of this subtle and often undervalued writer of the industrial North.
Jack Haggerty, Glasgow