The Good Companions
|Author||J. B. Priestley|
|Publisher||William Heinemann Ltd|
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
|Followed by||Angel Pavement|
The Good Companions is a novel by the English author J. B. Priestley.
Written in 1929 (in Deal, Kent), it focuses on the trials and tribulations of a concert party in England between World War I and World War II. It is arguably Priestley's most famous novel, and the work which established him as a national figure. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was adapted twice into film.
The novel is written in picaresque style, and opens with the middle aged, discontented Jess Oakroyd in the fictional Yorkshire town of Bruddersford. He opts to leave his family and seek adventure "on t'road" (throughout the novel Priestley uses dialect for all non-RP speakers of English). He heads south down the Great North Road.
Intertwined with the story of Oakroyd's travels are those of Elizabeth Trant and Inigo Jollifant, two similarly malcontented individuals. Miss Trant is an upper-middle class spinster and Jollifant is a teacher at a down-at-heel private school. All three ultimately encounter each other when a failing concert troupe ('The Dinky Doos') are disbanding as a result of their manager's running off with the takings. The independently wealthy Miss Trant, against the advice of her relatives, decides to refloat the troupe, now known as 'The Good Companions'. Inigo plays piano, Oakroyd is the odd-job man, and other assorted characters including members of the original troupe: including Jimmy Nunn, Jerry Jerningham and Susie Dean, along with Mr Morton Mitcham (a travelling banjo player whom Inigo met earlier on his own odyssey) have various adventures round the shires of middle England.
After a sabotaged performance, the troupe disband: Jerry marries Lady Partlit, a fan; Susie and Inigo become successful and famous in London; Miss Trant gets married to a long lost sweetheart; Jess Oakroyd emigrates to Canada and the other performers carry on with their life on the road.
Literary significance and reception
The Good Companions was an instant hit on publication, but was not particularly well regarded by critics. Despite this, it remained popular for over forty years. It then fell out of favour, not only because the novel was written from a (rather old fashioned) middle class perspective but also because it deals with a phenomenon (a travelling music hall troupe) which no longer exists.
Nonetheless, Priestley's ear for dialectal foibles is keen, and many of his constructions (e.g. 'Unkerlathur' for 'Uncle Arthur') are acutely observed. More recently there has been a reappraisal of this and other Priestley works: a new edition of The Good Companions appeared in October 2007 with a foreword by Dame Judi Dench, accompanying a reappraisal of the various versions by Ronald Harwood, André Previn and Judy Cornwell amongst others.
1931 theatrical adaptation
Priestley collaborated with Edward Knoblock on a stage version of his novel, which opened at His Majesty's Theatre, London on 14 May 1931. It ran for nine months, with Edward Chapman, Edith Sharpe and John Gielgud in the cast.
1933 film version
1957 film version
A Technicolor remake was directed by J. Lee Thompson for Associated British Picture Corporation, and starred Eric Portman as Oakroyd, Celia Johnson as Miss Trant, Joyce Grenfell as Lady Partlit, Janette Scott as Susie Dean, John Fraser as Inigo Jollifant and Rachel Roberts as Elsie and Effie Longstaff. This version updates the narrative and music to the late 'fifties (with a score by Laurie Johnson) when touring shows were in decline. It did not replicate the success of the book, and signified the end of the novel's popular success. It came to be typified by the contemporaneous Angry Young Men of British stage and screen as the kind of unrealistic depiction of working class Britain they were struggling to be free of.
On 11 July 1974 a musical adaptation, directed by Braham Murray with a libretto by Ronald Harwood, music by André Previn and lyrics by Johnny Mercer (in his last show) opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in London – the same venue of the stage play over forty years earlier (having had its world premiere at the Palace Theatre in Manchester). The cast included John Mills as Oakroyd, Judi Dench as Miss Trant and Marti Webb as Susie Dean. It was revived in 2000 at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco. In October 2001 it was performed at the York Theatre in New York City as part of the York's "Musicals in Mufti" reading series.
1980 TV version
A Yorkshire Television series appeared in 1980, adapted by Alan Plater. It starred Jan Francis as Susie Dean and Simon Green as Jerry Jerningham. (Music composed by David Fanshawe. Executive Producer – David Cunliffe, Producer – Leonard Lewis, Directors – Leonard Lewis and Bill Hays.)
1995 Stage Musical
Peter Cheeseman commissioned Bob Eaton (Book and Lyrics) and Sayan Kent (Book and Music) to write a new stage musical version for the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle Under Lyme. It was directed by Bob Eaton. It has since been performed at the Theatre by the Lake, Keswick in 2002, directed by Ian Forrest, the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich in 2003 directed by Peter Rowe and in 1998 it was the 40th Anniversary production at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry, where Bob Eaton was Artistic Director (1996 to 2003).
The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School produced an all new musical version, at the Bristol Old Vic Studio in November 2009. Directed by the school's Artistic Director Sue Wilson, it featured a new script and score by Malcolm McKee, design by Sue Mayes and choreography by Gail Gordon.
2010 Radio adaptation
From 25 to 27 May 2010, BBC Radio 7 broadcast a three-part dramatisation of Priestley's novel by Eric Pringle, with Helen Longworth as Suzie Dean, Philip Jackson as Jess Oakroyd, Jemma Churchill as Elizabeth Trant and Nicholas Boulton as Inigo Jolliphant. The production was directed by Claire Grove and was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 4th, 11 and 18 August 2002.