Ground-breaking, firebrand playwright who changed our cultural and social landscape and put working-class lives centre stage.
Throughout her life, Shelagh Delaney told the stories of unfamiliar lives- working-class women and men – often those peopling Britain’s northern towns and cities – living on the margins of what polite society deemed acceptable, but who chose their own way in the world.
She wrote her first and best-known play A Taste of Honey, set in her native Salford, at the age of nineteen. A story of slums, sex and race relations, it premiered in 1958 and caught Britain on the cusp of seismic social change. Thanks to the new welfare state, council housing, education and full employment, women were freed from the old straitjacket of domesticity and, as the sixties began to swing, were able to take unprecedented new risks in their lives. Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was proclaiming that people ‘had never had it so good’, but the violent reaction to Delaney’s play exposed a deeply polarised society. The established press condemned Honey as tasteless muck; others thought it groundbreaking in its faithful depiction of working-class life. Builders, labourers and office workers told the BBC that Honey was ‘about people like us, isn’t it? Real life.’
Though little known today, this is the inspiring story of how one woman shook up the establishment of the 1950s and 60s, and helped trigger a cultural revolution. Exploding old certainties about class, sex and taste, Delaney blazed a new path – and redefined what art could be.