Shelagh Delaney, FRSL (/ /; 25 November 1938 – 20 November 2011) was an English dramatist and screenwriter, best known for her debut work, A Taste of Honey (1958).
Early life and A Taste of Honey
Of Irish ancestry, Delaney was born in 1938 in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire. She was the daughter of a bus inspector. She failed the eleven plus exam four times, and attended Broughton Secondary Modern school before transferring to a grammar school at the age of fifteen where she gained five O-levels.
Thinking she could do better than Terence Rattigan's Variations on a Theme, a play she had seen at the Opera House, Manchester during its pre–West End tour, Alternatively, it was after seeing Waiting for Godot. Delaney wrote her first play, in ten days, partly because she felt the work showed "insensitivity in the way Rattigan portrayed homosexuals". Her play 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. In the production's programme Delaney was described "the antithesis of London's 'angry young men'. She knows what she is angry about."
A Taste of Honey, first performed on 27 May 1958, is set in her native Salford. "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."
Reuniting the original cast, the play subsequently enjoyed a run of 368 performances in the West End from January 1959; it was also on Broadway, with Joan Plowright as Jo and Angela Lansbury as her mother in the original cast. It is "probably the most performed play by a post-war British woman playwright".
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." 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". 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". 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), and several radio plays, Tell Me a Film (2003), Country Life (2004) and its sequel Whoopi Goldberg's Country Life, which was broadcast in The Afternoon Play slot on BBC Radio 4 in June 2010.
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. She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.
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.