David Storey

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Although a character in one of David Malcolm Storey’s plays remarks that “sport and art don’t mix,” those two apparent opposites did indeed mix at a crucial period in Storey’s own development. The son of a coal miner, Storey was born on July 13, 1933, in Wakefield, Yorkshire—located in northeastern England. In 1953, after attending local schools, Storey began his studies at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, receiving his diploma in 1956. During that time, he commuted on weekends back up to the north, where he played professional football for the Leeds Rugby League Club from 1952 to 1956. After his marriage in 1956, he worked at a number of odd jobs—among them teacher, farm worker, and erector of circus tents, all of which would be reflected in his plays—before he turned to writing. In 1959, when his earliest attempts at fiction proved to be unmarketable, he tried drama, but his first work in the medium, The Restoration of Arnold Middleton, did not finally reach the stage until it was produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1966. Following the phenomenal success of This Sporting Life in 1960 and the publication of two more novels within three years, Storey turned his energies once again to the theater and, in a tremendous burst of creative inspiration, wrote four of his most important plays: In Celebration and The Contractor, both written in 1969; Home, written in 1970; and The Changing Room, written in 1971. With the production of In Celebration, Storey began his long and fruitful association with George Devine’s English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square (where John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger had premiered in 1956) and director Lindsay Anderson; Anderson would later direct the movie version of In Celebration for the American Film Theater’s second season. In 1971 Storey’s The Changing Room and The Contractor were presented by The Long Wharf group of New Haven, which provided the kind of ensemble acting that, in America, a regional theater seems best able to provide. Storey’s theatrical activity continued unabated during the 1970’s with more plays, including The Farm and Cromwell, Life Class, Mother’s Day, Sisters, and Early Days. Of these, only Life Class and Early Days appear likely to have much continued life in the theater.

By the early 1980’s, Storey hinted that his career as a dramatist was winding down, declaring that “the plays are a dead duck now.” In fact, only one play, Phoenix—about the artistic director of a theater that loses its government subsidy and is finally demolished—would be produced mid-decade and only in the provinces rather than in London. Another play, Stages, was produced in 1992, followed by the publication of Caring in the same year.


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David Malcolm Storey was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the third son of Frank Richmond, a coal miner, and Lily Cartwright Storey. He attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and went on to study art from 1951 to 1953 at the Wakefield College of Art. He needed additional financial assistance to continue his education, so in 1952 he signed a fourteen-year contract with the professional Leeds Rugby League Club. In pursuit of his art, both visual and literary, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London and graduated with a diploma in fine arts in 1956. Although he was entered into the art program, Storey has said in interviews that he choose art so he would have the time to write.

In 1956, the fledgling novelist and painter married language teacher Barbara Rudd Hamilton and, with her encouragement, arranged...

(This entire section contains 350 words.)

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a release from his rugby team contract. From 1957 until 1960 he worked as a substitute teacher at seventeen different schools around London’s tough East End. Storey’s disillusionment and his experiences with demoralized fellow teachers and disruptive students are recurring elements in his novels and plays.

During the time when Storey was teaching he faced steady rejection in selling his first novel, This Sporting Life, so he decided to write a play that he titled “To Die with the Philistines.” Shortly after he finished the script, he received word that the American publishing company Macmillan wanted to buy his novel while it was being published simultaneously in England by Longmans. When he won the Macmillan Fiction Award and received the seventy-five hundred dollars in monetary remuneration, he and his wife were expecting their first child (they would eventually have four) and were fifty pounds in debt. With the sale of his novel, Storey was able to quit teaching and devote his energy to writing full time. In the intervening years, in addition to more novels, he has written screenplay adaptations of This Sporting Life (1963) and his play The Celebration (1975) as well as television scripts, articles, and poetry. He has also served as associate artistic director at the Royal Court Theatre.


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The third son of Frank Richmond and Lily Cartwright Storey, David Storey—professional rugby player, teacher, artist, novelist, poet, and dramatist—was born on July 13, 1933, in Wakefield, a cathedral town in the north of England, famous for the Wakefield cycle of medieval mystery plays. Storey’s father, a self-educated miner, consistently encouraged his sons’ education as a means of rising to the middle class. For the father, however, the middle class evidently did not include painters or writers. The generation gap between father and son, at least in 1963, posed “no hope of reconciliation.” Among the most reclusive of his contemporaries, Storey has preferred to express the inevitable and painful alienation from his working-class roots in his writing rather than in interviews.

In the introduction to the first volume of his collected plays, he writes of an early experience in the theater. At the age of nine, he was taken by an elder brother to see William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601, pb. 1603) at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. He recalls his irritation with the absurdity and pretense of the performance. What was missing in the production was drama, something he vividly experienced the next day. Having missed the last bus, he and his brother had to walk the twelve miles to Wakefield, arriving home at dawn. There was, in his words, much agitation, relief, and recrimination on the part of his parents, who had called the police to report their missing sons. That same drama of personal conflicts, with its attendant residue of guilt, remains the thematic hallmark not only of Storey’s plays but also of his novels.

His education and early jobs reflect his own attempts to free himself from restricting, centuries-old, working-class routines. He attended Queen Elizabeth Grammar School from 1951 to 1953, and although he was offered a geography scholarship at Reading University, he chose a fourteen-year contract with the Leeds Rugby Club, eventually playing out only four of the fourteen years. He used his first rugby earnings to enroll at the Wakefield School of Art and then at London’s Slade School of Art. He commuted for three years between London and Leeds, winning prizes in painting at Slade.

In 1956, Storey married Barbara Rudd Hamilton, a London University graduate from Yorkshire, and they resided in London’s Hampstead district. They had two sons and two daughters. To support himself and a family, Storey at various times worked as a postman, show tent constructor, farmworker, teacher in Islington (in north London), and fellow at University College, London. His plays draw strongly on those experiences, as in his play about a schoolteacher, The Restoration of Arnold Middleton (wr. 1959, pr. 1966, pb. 1967); another play about the construction and tearing down of a tent at a wedding reception, The Contractor (pr. 1969, pb. 1970); another about the activities in the dressing room at a rugby match, The Changing Room (pr. 1971, pb. 1972); The Farm (pr., pb. 1973); and a play about a school of art, Life Class (pr. 1974, pb. 1975). Of his various jobs, only his experience working as a postman has yet to find its way into a play.

During his early years of teaching, he wrote of wanting “to get something down in the shortest possible time that would convey my then feelings of frustration and despair.” The despair was caused by having had seven novels rejected by publishers. In three days in 1959, Storey wrote a play, To Die with the Philistines, which was similarly rejected by major London theaters but produced at the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh in 1966 under a “suitably revised title,” The Restoration of Arnold Middleton. It was then staged a year later at London’s epoch-making experimental theater, The Royal Court. From experiment to establishment, the play eventually found its way to a commercial West End theater, and Storey’s career as playwright was launched. An impressive succession of plays followed, most of them produced at The Royal Court during its heady experimental years. From 1972 to 1974, Storey served as associate artistic director at The Royal Court.

For his play Home (pr., pb. 1970), Storey won awards from the Evening Standard and the New York Drama Critics Circle. The Contractor won both the London Theater Critics Award for Best Play and the Writer of the Year Award from the Variety Club of Britain; The Changing Room received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Storey’s novels have also garnered prizes. This Sporting Life (1960) won the Macmillan Fiction Award, Flight into Camden (1960) earned the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize, Radcliffe (1963) won the Somerset Maugham Award, and Saville (1976) received the Man Booker Prize.


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David Storey’s metaphor for life is the family. Much of his work consists of imaginative re-creations of his own family. He was himself one of three sons of a Yorkshire coal miner, and many of the families he has depicted in his novels and plays, including In Celebration, Saville, A Prodigal Child (1982), Present Times (1984), Stages (pr., pb. 1992), and A Serious Man, fit a similar description. He often uses the same names, such as Andrew, Colin and Steven, for more than one of his characters.

Even when a family is not literally at the center of the story, the idea of family emerges in relationships formed for a particular occasion, such as a rugby match, a construction job, or recovery from mental illness. In these variations of the family unit, bitter conflicts are absent for the brief time that a communal spirit takes over; rules and rituals make harmony possible. Such harmony may be denied: The Shaw family in In Celebration, for example, does not achieve it, and it evaporates toward the end of Saville.

In opting for the story whose main event is not dramatized, Storey has made a distinctive, immediately recognizable contribution to modern English drama. He has also created compelling novels out of the material of memory and vivid imagination.