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Shelagh Delaney's Salford (1960)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Shelagh Delaney's Salford (1960)
For Monitor, BBC, tx. 15/9/1960
15 mins, black and white
DirectorKen Russell
Production CompanyBBC
PhotographyTony Leggo

With: Shelagh Delaney, Joe Delaney

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The author of A Taste of Honey and The Lion in Love visits her home town of Salford, in which both plays are set.

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Ken Russell's second Monitor-sponsored trip to the north of England (following Miners' Picnic, tx. 3/7/1960) is a portrait of the writer Shelagh Delaney that was broadcast exactly two months before her 21st birthday. Despite her youth, at the time of filming she already had two plays to her credit, A Taste of Honey (1957) and The Lion in Love (1960).

Surprisingly, aside from a brief reference to her plays (though not by name) and her time at Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop (which first staged A Taste of Honey), her writing is barely mentioned. Instead, Russell follows Delaney as she walks around her native Salford, through the bustling markets and along the canal, past disused pubs and factories and the bunched-together terraced houses that can't help but foster a strong sense of community.

Much of the running time and all of the commentary is taken up with an engaging interview with Delaney in which she describes what Salford means to her (she attributes her own restlessness to the town, but regards it as a constant rock to which she can always return if need be) and reminisces about her childhood in general and her education in particular. This final section turns into a full-on polemic - since she attended both a secondary modern and a grammar school, she had direct personal experience of both the dominant strands of postwar British education, and considers that there was no essential difference between the abilities of her brighter secondary modern classmates and their grammar school equivalents.

Though the film doesn't mention this at any point (presumably assuming that anyone wanting to watch a programme about Shelagh Delaney would already be familiar with at least her first play), this is intimately linked to the theme of A Taste of Honey, which is about a 17-year-old girl refusing to accept what life seemingly has in store for her. Already a solid stage hit (in 1959, it transferred from the Theatre Workshop to the West End for an unexpectedly long run), Tony Richardson's film version would be released the year after this Monitor item was broadcast.

Russell's contribution is relatively low-key here, preferring to let Delaney do the talking, though there are evocative shots of old Salford, its marketplace and the rabbit-warren housing estates, together with two well-judged montages of children playing which serve to underscore many of Delaney's key points.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. A terrific vitality (1:58)
2. The city's beating heart (1:32)
3. On education (2:47)
Taste of Honey, A (1961)
Russell, Ken (1927-2011)
Ken Russell: The Monitor Years