Shelagh Delaney

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Shelagh Delaney
Shelagh Delaney.jpg
Born(1938-11-25)25 November 1938[1]
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
ChildrenCharlotte Delaney

Shelagh Delaney, FRSL (/ˈʃlə dəˈln/; 25 November 1938[1] – 20 November 2011)[2] was an English dramatist and screenwriter, best known for her debut work, A Taste of Honey (1958).

Early life and A Taste of Honey[edit]

Of Irish ancestry, Delaney was born in 1938 in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire.[1] She was the daughter of a bus inspector.[3] She failed the eleven plus exam and attended Broughton Secondary Modern school before transferring to Pendleton High School at the age of fifteen, where she gained five O-levels.[4]

Delaney wrote her first play [5] in ten days, after seeing Terence Rattigan's Variation on a Theme (some sources say it was after seeing Waiting for Godot),[6] at the Opera House, Manchester[7] during its pre–West End tour.[8] Delaney felt she could do better than Rattigan, partly because she felt "Variation..." showed "insensitivity in the way Rattigan portrayed homosexuals".[9] Her play, A Taste of Honey, was accepted by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop. "Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist", Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop said at the time.[10] In the production's programme Delaney was described as "the antithesis of London's 'angry young men'. She knows what she is angry about."[11]

A Taste of Honey, first performed on 27 May 1958,[10] is set in her native Salford.[12] "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."[13]

Reuniting the original cast,[14] the play subsequently enjoyed a run of 368 performances in the West End from January 1959;[15] it was also on Broadway, with Joan Plowright as Jo and Angela Lansbury as her mother in the original cast.[16] It is "probably the most performed play by a post-war British woman playwright".[17]

Other work[edit]

Delaney's second play The Lion in Love followed in 1960. This work "portrays an impoverished family, whose income comes from peddling trinkets", but "the best qualities of the first play are absent."[18] 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".[19] Sweetly Sings the Donkey, a collection of short stories, appeared in 1963.

The screenplay of the 1961 film version of A Taste of Honey, which she co-wrote with director Tony Richardson, "contrives to keep in Delaney's best lines while creating a cinematic, rather than a theatrical experience".[20] 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). She also wrote "The House That Jack Built" (1977 TV series),[21] and several radio plays, Tell Me a Film (2003), Country Life (2004)[16] and its sequel Whoopi Goldberg's Country Life, which was broadcast in The Afternoon Play slot on BBC Radio 4 in June 2010.[22]

In 1985, Delaney was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


Delaney died from breast cancer and heart failure, five days before her 73rd birthday, at the home of her daughter Charlotte in Suffolk, England.[1] She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.[16]


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 quotes 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".[23]


  1. ^ a b c d Bruce Weber "Shelagh Delaney, Author of the Play ‘A Taste of Honey’, Dies at 72", New York Times, 24 November 2011. The correct year was provided by her daughter.
  2. ^ Writer Shelagh Delaney dies at 72[permanent dead link],, 21 November 2011; accessed 10 June 2014.
  3. ^ Shelagh Delaney profile,; accessed 10 June 2014.
  4. ^ Shelagh Delaney biography Archived 28 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 10 June 2014.
  5. ^ James Michael Welsh, John C. Tibbetts. The Cinema of Tony Richardson, SUNY Press, 1999, p. 99
  6. ^ 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.)
  7. ^ Michael Billington, "Shelagh Delaney gave working class women a taste of what was possible", The Guardian, 21 November 2011
  8. ^ Obituary: Shelagh Delaney, Daily Telegraph, 21 November 2011; accessed 10 June 2014.
  9. ^ C.D. Innes Modern British Drama: the Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 80
  10. ^ a b Yael Zarhy-Levo The Making of Theatrical Reputations, University of Iowa Press, 2008, p. 80
  11. ^ Rachel Cooke "Shelagh Delaney: the return of Britain's angry young woman", The Observer, 25 January 2014
  12. ^ "Shelagh Delaney's Salford",; accessed 10 June 2014.
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Stephen Lacey British realist theatre: the new wave in its context 1956–1965, London: Routlege, p. 51
  15. ^ Elaine Aston and Janelle G. Reinelt The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 41
  16. ^ a b c Dennis Barker, Obituary: Shelagh Delaney, The Guardian, 21 November 2011; accessed 10 June 2014.
  17. ^ Michael Patterson, The Oxford Dictionary of Plays, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 402
  18. ^ Christine L. Krueger, George Stade and Karen Karbiener. Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries, Infobase Publishing, 2003, p. 104
  19. ^ Jeanette Winterson "My hero: Shelagh Delaney by Jeanette Winterson", The Guardian, 18 September 2010. See also the article by Samantha Ellis
  20. ^ Phil Wickham "Taste of Honey, A (1961)", BFI screenonline
  21. ^ "The House that Jack Built: 1: Ten Years Ago - Winter - BBC One London - 15 June 1977 - BBC Genome".
  22. ^ The Afternoon Play: "Whoopi Goldberg's Country Life", BBC Radio 4, 18 June 2010
  23. ^ Simon Goddard Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrisey and the Smiths, Plume Books, 2010, pp. 96–99

External links[edit]