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Shelagh Delaney

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Shelagh Delaney
BornSheila Mary Delaney[1]
(1938-11-25)25 November 1938[2]
Broughton, Salford, Lancashire, England
Died20 November 2011(2011-11-20) (aged 72)
Suffolk, England
Literary movementKitchen sink realism
Notable worksA Taste of Honey, The White Bus, Charlie Bubbles, Dance with a Stranger

Shelagh Delaney FRSL (/ˈʃlə dəˈln/; 25 November 1938[2] – 20 November 2011)[3] was an English dramatist and screenwriter. Her debut work, A Taste of Honey (1958), has been described by Michael Patterson as "probably the most performed play by a post-war British woman playwright".[4]


Early life and A Taste of Honey play[edit]

The daughter of an Irish-born bus inspector father, Joseph, and a Salford-born mother, Elsie Tremlow,[1] Delaney was born in 1938 in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire.[2][5] Born Sheila Mary Delaney, she later changed her first name to sound more Irish before the premiere of her first play.[1][6] She failed the Eleven plus exam and attended Broughton Secondary Modern school before transferring at the age of 15 to Pendleton High School, where she gained five O-levels.[7]

Delaney wrote her first play in ten days, after seeing Terence Rattigan's Variation on a Theme (some sources say it was after seeing Waiting for Godot),[8] at the Opera House, Manchester[9] during its pre–West End tour.[10][11] Delaney felt she could do better than Rattigan, partly because she felt "Variation..." showed "insensitivity in the way Rattigan portrayed homosexuals".[12] Her play A Taste of Honey was accepted by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop.[13] "Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist", Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop said at the time.[14] In the production's programme Delaney was described as "the antithesis of London's 'angry young men'. She knows what she is angry about."[15]

A Taste of Honey, first performed on 27 May 1958,[14] is set in her native Salford.[16] "I had strong ideas about what I wanted to see in the theatre. We used to object to plays where the factory workers came cap in hand and call the boss 'sir'. Usually North Country people are shown as gormless, whereas in actual fact, they are very alive and cynical."[17]

Reuniting the original cast,[18] the play enjoyed a run of 368 performances in the West End from January 1959;[19] it was also performed on Broadway, with Joan Plowright as Jo and Angela Lansbury as her mother in the original cast.[5] It has been described by Michael Patterson in The Oxford Dictionary of Plays as "probably the most performed play by a post-war British woman playwright".[4]

Other work[edit]

Delaney's second play The Lion in Love followed in 1960.[20] The Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries comments that it "portrays an impoverished family, whose income comes from peddling trinkets", but "the best qualities of the first play are absent."[21] The novelist Jeanette Winterson, though, has commented that the contemporary reviews of these first two plays' first performances "read like a depressing essay in sexism".[22] Sweetly Sings the Donkey, a collection of short stories, appeared in 1963.[23]

A Taste of Honey was adapted into a film of the same title, released in 1961 with Delaney as an extra in the opening netball scene. Delaney wrote the screenplay with the director, Tony Richardson. According to Phil Wickham, writing for the Screenonline website, the film script "contrives to keep in Delaney's best lines while creating a cinematic rather than a theatrical experience".[24] It won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award in 1962. Delaney's other screenplays include The White Bus, Charlie Bubbles (both 1967) and Dance with a Stranger (1985).[25] She also wrote the BBC series "The House That Jack Built" (1977), which she later adapted as an Off-Off-Broadway play in 1979.[26][27] In 1985 Delaney was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Delaney wrote several radio plays, including Tell Me a Film (2003), Country Life (2004)[5] and its sequel Whoopi Goldberg's Country Life, which was broadcast in The Afternoon Play slot on BBC Radio 4 in June 2010.[28]


Delaney died from breast cancer and heart failure, five days before her 73rd birthday, at the home of her daughter Charlotte in Suffolk, England.[2] She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.[5]


In 1986, the Smiths' lead singer and lyricist Morrissey said: "I've never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney". The lyrics of "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" are a retelling of the plot of A Taste of Honey, using many direct quotations from the play. Morrissey chose a photo of Delaney as the artwork on the album cover for the Smiths' 1987 compilation album Louder Than Bombs as well as the single "Girlfriend in a Coma".[29]

The first full-length study of her life and work was written by John Harding in 2014, entitled Sweetly Sings Delaney.[30] Tastes of Honey, a biography of Delaney by Selina Todd, was published in 2019.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Coatman, Anna (1 November 2019). "Angry young woman". The Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Weber, Bruce (24 November 2011). "Shelagh Delaney, Author of the Play 'A Taste of Honey', Dies at 72". The New York Times. The correct year was provided by Delaney's daughter.
  3. ^ Writer Shelagh Delaney dies at 72[permanent dead link], thenewstribune.com, 21 November 2011; accessed 10 June 2014.
  4. ^ a b Patterson, Michael (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 402. ISBN 978-0-19-860417-4. Also reproduced at "A Taste of Honey". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d Barker, Dennis (21 November 2011). "Obituary: Shelagh Delaney". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  6. ^ a b Kellaway, Kate (25 August 2019). "Tastes of Honey by Selina Todd review – illuminating life of Shelagh Delaney". The Observer. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  7. ^ "Shelagh Delaney biography". Queen's Theatre. London. Archived from the original on 28 February 2009.
  8. ^ Elaine Aston (January 2015). "Delaney, Shelagh (1938–2011)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/104333. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ Billington, Michael (21 November 2011). "Shelagh Delaney gave working class women a taste of what was possible". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Welsh, James Michael; Tibbetts, John C. (1999). The Cinema of Tony Richardson. SUNY Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-79-144250-0.
  11. ^ "Shelagh Delaney". The Daily Telegraph. 21 November 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  12. ^ Innes, C.D. (2002). Modern British Drama: the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 80.
  13. ^ Harding, John. Sweetly Sings Delaney. Greenwich Exchange 2014. www.greenex.co.uk
  14. ^ a b Zarhy-Levo, Yael (2008). The Making of Theatrical Reputations. University of Iowa Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-58-729626-0.
  15. ^ Cooke, Rachel (25 January 2014). "Shelagh Delaney: the return of Britain's angry young woman". The Observer.
  16. ^ "Shelagh Delaney's Salford". BFI Screenonline. 2003–2014. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  17. ^ Shelagh Delaney interview, 2 February 1959, Mid Century Drama, London, Faber, 1960, p. 169 as quoted in Pia Conti's "Shelagh Delaney", in Claude Lichtenstein & Thomas Schregenberger As found: the discovery of the ordinary, Springer, 2001, p. 266
  18. ^ Lacey, Stephen (1995). British realist theatre: the new wave in its context 1956–1965. London: Routledge. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-41-512311-2.
  19. ^ Aston, Elaine; Reinelt, Janelle G., eds. (2000). The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 41.
  20. ^ Harding, John. Sweetly Sings Delaney. Greenwich Exchange 2014. www.greenex.co.uk
  21. ^ Stade, George; Karbiener, Karen; Krueger, Christine L., eds. (2003). Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries. New York City: Facts on File. p. 104.
  22. ^ Winterson, Jeanette (18 September 2010). "My hero: Shelagh Delaney by Jeanette Winterson". The Guardian. See also the article by Samantha Ellis
  23. ^ Harding, John. Sweetly Sings Delaney. Greenwich Exchange 2014. www.greenex.co.uk
  24. ^ Wickham, Phil (2003–2014). "Taste of Honey, A (1961)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  25. ^ Harding, John. Sweetly Sings Delaney. Greenwich Exchange 2014. www.greenex.co.uk
  26. ^ "The House that Jack Built: 1: Ten Years Ago - Winter - BBC One London - 15 June 1977". BBC Genome.
  27. ^ "Shelagh Delaney Biography - eNotes.com". eNotes.
  28. ^ "The Afternoon Play: Whoopi Goldberg's Country Life, BBC Radio 4". BBC Genome. 18 June 2010.
  29. ^ Goddard, Simon (2010). Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and the Smiths. Plume Books. pp. 96–99. ISBN 978-0-45-229667-1.
  30. ^ Harding, John. Sweetly Sings Delaney. Greenwich Exchange 2014. www.greenex.co.uk

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