Study Guide

Shelagh Delaney

Shelagh Delaney Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Shelagh Delaney was born on November 25, 1939, in Salford, Lancashire, England. She remembers her father, Joseph, a bus inspector, as a great storyteller and reader. Delaney’s education was erratic, marked by attendance at three primary schools and her failure of the eleven-plus qualifying examinations for grammar school. She was admitted to the Broughton Secondary School and, after a fair record of achievement, was transferred to the more academic local grammar school. At fifteen, she took her General Certificate of Education, passing in five subjects, and at age seventeen, she left school. She held a number of jobs in succession, working as a shop assistant, as a milk depot clerk, as an usher, and finally as an assistant researcher in the photography department of a large industrial firm.

The encouragement Delaney received at Broughton School led her to continue her writing later. She had already begun a novel when she saw a performance of Terence Rattigan’s Variation on a Theme (pr., pb. 1958), which she disliked and which she thought she could better. This experience served as a catalyst for reshaping her novel into the play that became A Taste of Honey. She sent the revision to Joan Littlewood , leader of a radical London group called Theatre Workshop , who began rehearsals immediately. Its initial run began May 27, 1958, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, and lasted a month. Restaged six months later at the Theatre Royal, it...

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Shelagh Delaney Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shelagh Delaney is highly regarded for her ability to create plays about working-class characters and to express the difficulties of their lives in industrial northern England. She is a playwright of a particular region and social class. Delaney was born on November 25, 1939, in Salford, Lancashire, England, the daughter of Joseph and Elsie Twemlow. She remembered her father, a bus inspector, as a great storyteller and reader. Delaney’s education was erratic, with attendance at three primary schools and failure of the eleven-plus qualifying examinations for grammar school. After admission to the Broughton Secondary School and a fair record of achievement, she was transferred to the more academic grammar school. At fifteen, she took her General Certificate of Education, passing in five subjects, and at seventeen she left school. After a few minor jobs, she took a position as an assistant researcher in the photography department of a large industrial firm.

Her teachers at Broughton School encouraged Delaney to continue her writing. She had already begun a novel when she saw a performance of a Terence Rattigan play, which she disliked. The experience inspired her to recast her novel into dramatic form. She sent the revision to Joan Littlewood, leader of a radical London group called Theatre Workshop, who accepted it. A Taste of Honey began its initial run of a month at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. When it opened in New York, in October, 1960, it was well received and ran for 391 performances.

Delaney’s second play, The Lion in Love, attacked as verbose, without unity and focus, had only a brief London run in 1960. Afterward, Delaney turned to television and film, occasionally adapting material from her short stories. In 1961, she worked with director Tony Richardson to produce a successful, realistic film version of A Taste of Honey. The production won for her a British Film...

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Shelagh Delaney Biography (Drama for Students)

Shelagh Delaney Published by Gale Cengage

Shelagh Delaney was born November 25, 1939, in Salford, Lancashire, England. Her father, a bus inspector, and her mother were part of the English working class, the social group that informs of her writing. Delaney attended Broughton Secondary School but began writing even before she completed her education. She had no further interest in formal education, and after she left school, she held a number of jobs, including salesgirl, usherette, and clerk.

A Taste of Honey was produced when Delaney was eighteen-years-old. Although this play was originally being written as a novel, it was rewritten as a play in response to Delaney’s dissatisfaction with contemporary theatre. Delaney felt that she could write a better play, with more realistic dialogue, than the plays that were currently being staged. A Taste of Honey became an unexpected hit, winning several awards both as a play and later as a film. Delaney followed with another play, The Lion in Love, two years later (1960). She did not write another play for nearly twenty years.

Instead, Delaney focused on short stories, Sweetly Sings the Donkey (1963); screenplays, Charlie Bubbles (1968) and The Raging Moon (1970); and television plays, Did Your Nanny Come from Bergen? (1970), St. Martin’s Summer (1974), and Find Me First (1979). In 1979, Delaney again wrote for the theatre when she adapted The House That Jack Built, a BBC television script she had written in 1977. Delaney followed this stage work with two radio plays, So Does the Nightingale (1980) and Don’t Worry about Matilda (1981). After another television play, Rape (1981), Delaney was asked to write a screenplay based on the true story of a women who was executed for murder. This work became the film Dance with a Stranger (1985). Delaney has also contributed articles for the New York Times Magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, and Evergreen Review.

Delaney’s first play proved a difficult act to follow, and none of her subsequent work received the same critical acclaim that greeted A Taste of Honey, although her collection of short, autobiographical stories, Sweetly Sings the Donkey, was considered a critical success. Delaney believes in social protest and has not been afraid to speak out on the need for a more realistic theatre, one that depicts the working class environment of many British citizens. Delaney lives in London, where she was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1985.