Alan Sillitoe

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Alan Sillitoe

Sillitoe in May 2009
Sillitoe in May 2009
Born(1928-03-04)4 March 1928
Nottingham, England
Died25 April 2010(2010-04-25) (aged 82)
London, England
Notable worksSaturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958);
"The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" (1959)
SpouseRuth Fainlight

Alan Sillitoe FRSL (4 March 1928 – 25 April 2010)[1][2] was an English writer and one of the so-called "angry young men" of the 1950s.[3][4][5] He disliked the label, as did most of the other writers to whom it was applied. He is best known for his debut novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and his early short story "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", both of which were adapted into films.


Sillitoe was born in Nottingham to working-class parents, Christopher Sillitoe and Sabina (née Burton). Like Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of his first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, his father worked at the Raleigh Bicycle Company's factory in the town.[2] His father was illiterate, violent,[6] and unsteady with his jobs, and the family was often on the brink of starvation.[2]

Sillitoe left school at the age of 14, having failed the entrance examination to grammar school.[4] He worked at the Raleigh factory for the next four years, spending his free time reading prodigiously and being a "serial lover of local girls".[6] He joined the Air Training Corps in 1942,[7] then the Royal Air Force, albeit too late to serve in the Second World War. He served as a wireless operator in Malaya during the Emergency.[2] After returning to Britain he was planning to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force[7] when it was discovered that he had tuberculosis. He spent 16 months in an RAF hospital.[2]

Pensioned off at the age of 21 on 45 shillings (£2.25) a week, he lived in France and Spain for seven years in an attempt to recover. In 1955, while living in Mallorca with the American poet Ruth Fainlight, whom he married in 1959,[8] and in contact with the poet Robert Graves, Sillitoe started work on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was published in 1958. Influenced in part by the stripped-down prose of Ernest Hemingway, the book conveys the attitudes and situation of a young factory worker faced with the inevitable end of his youthful philandering. As with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and John Braine's Room at the Top, the novel's real subject was the disillusionment of post-war Britain and the lack of opportunities for the working class. It was adapted as a film by Karel Reisz in 1960, with Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton; the screenplay was written by Sillitoe.[5]

Sillitoe's story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, which concerns the rebellion of a borstal boy with a talent for running, won the Hawthornden Prize in 1959.[2] It was also adapted into a film, in 1962, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay. Sillitoe again wrote the screenplay.

With Fainlight he had a child, David. They later adopted another, Susan. Sillitoe lived at various times in Kent, London and Montpellier.[2] In London he was friendly with the bookseller Bernard Stone (who had been born in Nottingham a few years before Sillitoe) and became one of the bohemian crowd that congregated at Stone's Turret Bookshop on Kensington Church Walk.[9]

In the 1960s Sillitoe was celebrated in the Soviet Union as a spokesman for the "oppressed worker" in the West. Invited to tour the country, he visited several times in the 1960s and in 1968 he was asked to address the Congress of Soviet Writers' Unions, where he denounced Soviet human rights abuses, many of which he had witnessed.[2]

In 1990 Sillitoe was awarded an honorary degree by Nottingham Polytechnic, now Nottingham Trent University. The city's older Russell Group university, the University of Nottingham, also awarded him an honorary D.Litt. in 1994. In 2006 his best-known play was staged at the university's Lakeside Arts theatre in an in-house production.

Sillitoe wrote many novels and several volumes of poems. His autobiography, Life Without Armour, which was critically acclaimed on publication in 1995, offers a view of his squalid childhood. In an interview Sillitoe claimed that "A writer, if he manages to earn a living at what he's doing, even if it's a very poor living, acquires some of the attributes of the old-fashioned gentleman (if I can be so silly)."[10]

Gadfly in Russia, an account of his travels in Russia spanning 40 years, was published in 2007.[11] In 2008 London Books republished A Start in Life in its London Classics series to mark the author's 80th birthday. Sillitoe appeared on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 on 25 January 2009.[12]

Sillitoe's long-held desire for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to be remade for a contemporary filmgoing audience was never achieved, despite strong efforts. Danny Brocklehurst was to adapt the book and Sillitoe gave his blessing to the project, but Tony Richardson's estate and Woodfall Films prevented it from going ahead.[13]

Sillitoe was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997.[14]


Sillitoe's grave in Highgate Cemetery

Sillitoe died of cancer on 25 April 2010 at Charing Cross Hospital in London. He was 82.[2][11] He is buried in Highgate Cemetery.



  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, London: Allen, 1958; New York: Knopf, 1959. New edition (1968) has an introduction by Sillitoe, commentary and notes by David Craig. Longman edition (1976) has a sequence of Nottingham photographs, and stills from the film, Harlow.
  • The General, London: Allen, 1960; New York: Knopf, 1961
  • Key to the Door, London: Allen, 1961; New York: Knopf, 1962; reprinted, with a new preface by Sillitoe, London: Allen, 1978
  • The Death of William Posters, London: Allen, 1965; New York: Knopf, 1965
  • A Tree on Fire, London: Macmillan, 1967; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968
  • A Start in Life, London: Allen, 1970; New York: Scribners, 1971
  • Travels in Nihilon, London: Allen, 1971; New York: Scribners, 1972
  • The Flame of Life, London: Allen, 1974
  • The Widower's Son, Allen, 1976; New York: Harper & Row, 1977
  • The Storyteller, London: Allen, 1979; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.
  • Her Victory, London: Granada, 1982; New York: Watts, 1982
  • The Lost Flying Boat, London: Granada, 1983; Boston: Little, Brown, 1983
  • Down from the Hill, London: Granada, 1984
  • Life Goes On, London: Granada, 1985
  • Out of the Whirlpool. London: Hutchinson, 1987
  • The Open Door, London: Grafton/Collins, 1989
  • Last Loves, London: Grafton, 1990; Boston: Chivers, 1991
  • Leonard's War: A Love Story. London: HarperCollins, 1991
  • Snowstop, London: HarperCollins, 1993
  • The Broken Chariot, London: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1998
  • The German Numbers Woman, London: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1999
  • Birthday, London: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 2001
  • A Man of His Time, Flamingo (UK), 2004, ISBN 0-00-717327-X; Harper Perennial (US), 2005. ISBN 0-00-717328-8; ISBN 978-0-00-717328-0

Collections of short stories[edit]

  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, London: Allen, 1959; New York: Knopf, 1960
  • The Ragman’s Daughter and Other Stories, London: Allen, 1963; New York: Knopf, 1964
  • Guzman, Go Home, and Other Stories, London: Macmillan, 1968; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969; reprinted, with a new preface by Sillitoe, London; Allen, 1979
  • Men, Women and Children, London: Allen, 1973; New York: Scribners, 1974
  • Down to the Bone, Exeter: Wheaton, 1976
  • The Second Chance and Other Stories, London: Cape, 1981; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981
  • The Far Side of the Street: Fifteen Short Stories, London: Allen, 1988
  • Alligator Playground: A Collection of Short Stories, Flamingo, 1997, ISBN 0-00-655073-8
  • New and Collected Stories, Carroll and Graf, 2005. ISBN 0-7867-1476-X


  • Every Day of the Week: An Alan Sillitoe Reader, with an introduction by John Sawkins London: Allen, 1987
  • Collected Stories, London: Flamingo, 1995; New York: HarperCollins, 1996

Writing for children[edit]

  • The City Adventures of Marmalade Jim, London: Macmillan, 1967; Toronto: Macmillan, 1967; revised ed., London: Robson, 1977
  • Big John and the Stars, London: Robson, 1977
  • The Incredible Fencing Fleas, London: Robson, 1978. Illus. Mike Wilks.
  • Marmalade Jim at the Farm, London: Robson, 1980
  • Marmalade Jim and the Fox, London: Robson, 1984


  • Road to Volgograd, London: Allen, 1964; New York: Knopf, 1964
  • Raw Material, London: Allen, 1972; New York: Scribners, 1973; rev. ed., London: Pan Books, 1974; further revised, London: Star Books, 1978; further revised, London: Allen, 1979
  • Mountains and Caverns: Selected Essays, London: Allen, 1975
  • Words Broadsheet Nineteen, by Sillitoe and Ruth Fainlight. Bramley, Surrey: Words Press, 1975. Broadside
  • "The Interview", London: The 35s (Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry), 1976
  • Israel: Poems on a Hebrew Theme, with drawings by Ralph Steadman; London: Steam Press, 1981 98 copies.
  • The Saxon Shore Way: From Gravesend to Rye, by Sillitoe and Fay Godwin. London: Hutchinson, 1983
  • Alan Sillitoe’s Nottinghamshire, with photographs by David Sillitoe. London: Grafton, 1987
  • Shylock the Writer, London: Turret Bookshop, 1991
  • The Mentality of the Picaresque Hero, London: Turret Bookshop, 1993, Turret Papers, no. 2. (500 copies)
  • Leading the Blind: A Century of Guidebook Travel. 1815-1914, London: Macmillan, 1995
  • Gadfly in Russia, JR Books, 2007


  • Three Plays, London: Allen, 1978 Contains The Slot-Machine, The Interview, Pit Strike


Collections of poems[edit]

  • Without Beer or Bread, Dulwich Village: Outposts, 1957
  • The Rats and Other Poems, London: Allen, 1960
  • Falling Out of Love and Other Poems, London; Allen, 1964; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964
  • Shaman and Other Poems", Turret, 1968 (Limited ed. of 500 copies, 100 copies signed and numbered)
  • Love in the Environs of Voronezh and Other Poems, London: Macmillan, 1968; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969.
  • Poems, by Sillitoe, Ruth Fainlight and Ted Hughes; London: Rainbow Press, 1971. (300 copies)
  • From Canto Two of The Rats, Wittersham, Kent: Alan Sillitoe, 1973
  • Barbarians and Other Poems, London: Turret Books, 1973. 500 copies
  • Storm: New Poems, London: Allen, 1974
  • Somme, London: Steam Press, 1974. In Steam Press Portfolio, no. 2. 50 copies
  • Day-Dream Communiqué, Knotting, Bedfordshire: Sceptre Press, 1977. 150 copies
  • From Snow on the North Side of Lucifer, Knotting, Bedfordshire: Sceptre Press, 1979. (150 copies)
  • Snow on the North Side of Lucifer: Poems, London: Allen, 1979
  • Poems for Shakespeare 7, Bear Gardens Museum and Arts Centre, 1979 (Limited to 500 numbered copies)
  • More Lucifer, Knotting, Bedfordshire: Martin Booth, 1980. 125 copies
  • Sun Before Departure: Poems, 1974–1982, London: Granada, 1984
  • Tides and Stone Walls: Poems, with photographs by Victor Bowley; London: Grafton, 1986
  • Three Poems, Child Okefurd, Dorset: Words Press, 1988. 200 copies
  • Collected Poems, London: HarperCollins, 1993

Film scripts[edit]


  • Chopin's Winter in Majorca 1838–1839, by Luis Ripoll, translated by Sillitoe. Palma de Majorca: Mossen Alcover, 1955
  • Chopin’s Pianos: The Pleyel in Majorca, by Luis Ripoll, translated by Sillitoe. Palma de Majorca: Mossen Alcover, 1958
  • All Citizens Are Soldiers (Fuente Ovejuna): A Play in Two Acts, by Lope de Vega, translated by Sillitoe and Ruth Fainlight. London: Macmillan, 1969; Chester Springs, PA: Dufour, 1969
  • Poems for Shakespeare, volume 7, edited and translated by Sillitoe and Ruth Fainlight. London: Bear Gardens Museum & Arts Centre, 1980


  1. ^ Obituary, The Times, 26 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Richard Bradford (25 April 2010). "Alan Sillitoe obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  3. ^ Bruce Weber (26 April 2010). "Alan Sillitoe, 'Angry' British Author, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Alan Sillitoe, Obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 26 April 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b Martin Weil (27 April 2010). "Alan Sillitoe, 82, dies; chronicled restless British youth". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Alan Sillitoe". The Economist. 29 April 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Interview: Alan Sillitoe". 19 May 2008.
  8. ^ "Sillitoe-Fainlight". Archived from the original on 24 January 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Obituary: Bernard Stone". 10 February 2005.
  10. ^ Wood, Ramsay,"Alan Sillitoe: The Image Shedding the Author", Four-Quarters, La Salle College, Philadelphia, 1971 Robert Twigger blog entry, 6 August 2011
  11. ^ a b "Author Alan Sillitoe dies in London". BBC News. 25 April 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  12. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs, Alan Sillitoe".
  13. ^ Tom Vallance (20 March 2009). "Natasha Richardson: Member of celebrated acting family who found success on stage and screen". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 March 2009. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  14. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.


Further reading[edit]

  • Gerard, David E., and H. W. Wilson. Alan Sillitoe: A Bibliography, Mansell, 1986 (UK) ISBN 0-7201-1829-8; Meckler, 1988 (US) ISBN 0-88736-104-8.
  • Penner, Allen R. Alan Sillitoe, Twayne, 1972.
  • Vaverka, Ronald Dee. Commitment as Art: A Marxist Critique of a Selection of Alan Sillitoe's Political Fiction. (1978 Dissertation, Uppsala University.)
  • Atherton, Stanley S. Alan Sillitoe: A Critical Assessment, W. H. Allen, 1979. ISBN 0-491-02496-7
  • Craig, David. The Roots of Sillitoe's Fiction. In The British Working-Class Novel in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jeremy Hawthorn, Edward Arnold, 1984. ISBN 0-7131-6415-8
  • Hitchcock, Peter. Working-Class Fiction in Theory and Practice: A Reading of Alan Sillitoe, UMI Research Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8357-1976-6
  • Wilding, Michael. 'Alan Sillitoe's Political Novels', Sydney Studies in Society and Culture, 8, 1993
  • Hanson, Gillian Mary. Understanding Alan Sillitoe, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1999. ISBN 1-57003-219-X
  • Sawkins, John. The Long Apprenticeship: Alienation in the Early Work of Alan Sillitoe, Peter Lang, 2001. ISBN 3-906764-50-8
  • Bradford, Richard. The Life of a Long-distance Writer: The Biography of Alan Sillitoe, Peter Owen, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7206-1317-9

External links[edit]