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Sillitoe, Alan (1928-2010)


Main image of Sillitoe, Alan (1928-2010)

Two of the key films of the British 'new wave', Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1962), were drawn from works by the novelist Alan Sillitoe; in both cases he wrote the screenplays. Saturday Night, adapted from his first novel (1958), was directed by Karel Reisz, and Loneliness, from the title story of his first short story collection (1959), by Tony Richardson.

With their proudly working-class heroes, downbeat northern realism and aggressive class-consciousness, they brought a startlingly new element into British cinema, where working-class characters had generally been portrayed as criminals, buffoons, eeh-ba-gum whippet-owners or salt-of-the-earth cockneys. The films also launched the careers of Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay.

On the strength of these, Sillitoe was widely predicted to become a major creative force in British films. As it turned out, the rest of his career as a screenwriter represented something of a dying fall.

He was born in Nottingham of working-class stock and - like the protagonist of Saturday Night - worked for some years in the Raleigh bicycle factory. After his national service in the RAF he took up full-time writing and was initially classed as one of the 'Angry Young Men' of post-war British literature - a label he always loathed.

Following the huge success of his first two books he published extensively: fiction, non-fiction and poetry. But only three more of his books were adapted for the screen, and none of them made much impact. His novel 'The General' became Counterpoint (US, 1967), a far-fetched Gothic wartime drama starring Charlton Heston. Sillitoe had no hand in the scripting of this, but he did script The Ragman's Daughter (1972) from his own novel. Directed by Harold Becker, it returned to the Nottingham realism of his early work but felt less than convincing. His final screen work was a TV drama, 'Pit Strike' (tx. 22/9/1977), again from his own novel, which opened the BBC series of one-off dramas, Premiere (1977-80).

Philip Kemp

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Thumbnail image of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)

A borstal boy turns marathon runner in this adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel

Thumbnail image of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Classic slice of Northern gritty realism that made a star out of Albert Finney

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Thumbnail image of The 'Angry Young Men'The 'Angry Young Men'

How disaffected writers in the 1950s revolutionised British culture

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