Arnold Wesker was born May 24, 1932, in Stepney, a working-class neighborhood of sweatshops and immigrants in London’s East End. His parents were Joseph Wesker, a Russian-Jewish tailor, and Leah Perlmutter Wesker, a Hungarian-Jewish communist who often had to work in kitchens to support the family. Chicken Soup with Barley draws on this background. Like other London children, Wesker was evacuated during periods of World War II, living with foster parents in various sections of England and Wales. Failing his eleven-plus examination, which was given to determine whether eleven-year-olds went on to an academic or vocational secondary school, he did some amateur acting.
He left school in 1948 and worked at assorted jobs—as a furniture maker’s apprentice, carpenter’s mate, and bookseller’s assistant. From 1950 to 1952, he was in the Royal Air Force, where he organized an enlisted men’s drama group and started writing. A series of letters, which he originally meant to turn into a novel, later provided material for Chips with Everything.
From 1952 to 1958, he worked at another string of jobs—bookseller’s assistant and plumber’s mate in London, farm laborer, seed sorter, and kitchen porter in Norfolk, then as a pastry cook in London and Paris. With his savings, he studied in 1956 at the London School of Film Technique. He had also continued writing, and in 1957 he showed his work to film director Lindsay Anderson,...
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