Fame: Love on the Dole (the Play, 1934, co-written with Ronald Gow)

 It should be no surprise that for reasons to do with making a livelihood as a professional writer after having been poor, as well as wishing to reach a wide audience, Greenwood was keen to maximise the audience for Love on the Dole by adapting it into new forms. With the play version, the dramatist Ronald Gow’s perception that the novel could be dramatised pre-empted the author – and Gow’s theatrical experience and contacts were no doubt helpful both in the re-writing and the essential process of actually bringing off the play’s first production by the Manchester Repertory Theatre. The historian Richard Overy has produced figures from the Jonathan Cape Archive for sales of the novel which show that 46,920 copies of the novel were sold in the UK between 1933 and 1949 (there were further good sales in the US too). (1) However, contemporary sources estimated that more than one million people saw the play during 1935 in Britain, while Greenwood himself claimed in 1940 that three million people had now seen the play, including the King and Queen.(2) As the critic Ben Harker points out, some contemporary references to Greenwood’s work referred primarily to the play rather than the novel: ‘When, in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), George Orwell cited Love on the Dole for yielding real insight into lives of the North’s unemployed, he was talking not about the novel, but the stage version, which he assumed his readers had seen’. (3) The sales of the novel alone made it a best-seller by the standards of the day, but the expansion of this audience to over three million through adaptation into a play gave Greenwood’s work a really wide impact.


There were in fact two versions of the play-text, as Ben Harker was the first critic to note:

It was published twice in the mid-1930s: the Jonathan Cape edition of 1935 was prepared for publication prior to the London transfer, and reprints the text used for the Manchester performances and subsequent tour; the Samuel French acting edition of 1936 reprints the text as performed in London. What emerges in comparing the two is that the original Manchester adaptation underwent significant further revision en route to the West End, and that Love on the Dole was adapted for the stage not once but twice. (4)

Some differences from the novel are common to both versions. Neither includes all the characters from the novel, which is not surprising given the differences in genre: a large cast in a novel adds nothing to printing costs and can be managed through the narrative voice. Dramatic texts, when performed, need to use physical stage space and to represent characters through actors (who also have to be paid). This general principle explains why the casts of the play/s are much smaller than the cast of the novel, and can partly explain why the four older women (Mrs Bull, Mrs Jikes, Mrs Dorbell and Mrs Nattle) are reduced to three in the play and why, in the London version there is one ‘agitator’ (described thus in the cast list but called Pat O’Leary in the text itself) instead of the two in the Battle of Bexley Square scene in the novel. (5) But some changes to the cast, though no doubt influenced by practical theatrical and economic factors, also have aesthetic and/or political aspects.


One important character in the novel is entirely removed from both play versions: the war hero, crane operator, and then policeman, Ned Narkey. He is replaced in both versions by an unnamed ‘policeman’ who plays little part in the plot and is more like the generic police constable at the opening of the novel than he is like Ned Narkey.(6) Equally important are changes to the sequence of the story-telling in the plays and to the amount of ‘stage time’ as opposed to ‘page time’ occupied by characters. Here there are some major shifts from novel to play. Harry is very much the central focus of the early part of the novel, before being superseded by Larry and Sally as joint protagonists. Neither play-text follows this structure. In the novel the whole of Part One (some sixty-eight pages) is centred on Harry’s viewpoint, tracing his growing up through his work at the pawn-shop and then at Marlowe’s as an apprentice. Even in Part Two the first two chapters continue to focus on Harry’s experiences, and his increasing worries about his status. It is not till Chapter three (‘Raspberry, Gooseberry…’) that we have a chapter focussing on Sally’s thoughts and experiences, which also introduces Ned Narkey as a former partner of Sally, and Larry through the political speech which in fact forms the very first lines in both play-texts. As a theatre audience, we thus jump over a great deal of the plot, character development and other descriptive detail which we would meet as readers of the novel. This material is skilfully inserted into the plays later: a concise version of Part One of the novel, dealing with Harry’s sense of self and the narrative he believes he will surely live out as a working-class adult male, is dealt with in some three pages of play–script in Act One. The way in which this rapidly deals with Harry’s development and his disillusionment can be illustrated from a brief quotation:

HARRY. Ah’ve been put on a machine up at the shop – capstan-lathe they call it. That’s what Ah’ve wanted all along, and now Ah’ve got it. Have y’ seen new machines, Larry? By gum, they’re wonderful!

LARRY. Aye, they’re wonderful. They only need a lad of your years to work ‘em …But they’re not perfect yet, Harry…. That machine will be perfect when it turns the lever for itself an’ Marlowe’s can be rid of young Harry Hardcastle.

HARRY (thoughtfully). Aye, Ah know that’s coming. They turned another hundred fellows off this morning. But Ah’m not worrying. Maybe things’ll tek up …

LARRY. That’s how it is, Harry. The factory wants cheap labour to keep their prices down, and the apprentice racket’s a good way of getting it… (6)


We do not have here the novelistic effect of getting inside Harry’s mind and his world view and sympathising with his very ordinary hopes, while also knowing from early on in the narrative that in the society he inhabits these modest desires will be thwarted. Instead we have a well-written piece of dramatic realist dialogue in which ordinary speech appropriate to the context and the characters is also made to carry some of the play’s themes: for example, the difficulty that ordinary people in Hanky Park (of whom Harry is representative) have in seeing through the system, and the superior insight of Larry, as well as his ability to explain quite straightforwardly the workings of the system or ‘racket’.


The main effect of displacing Harry’s initial centrality is to refocus the play on Sally and Larry. Both versions of the play start with scenes set in the domestic environment of the Hardcastle’s ‘kitchen living-room’ from where Sally (at least) can hear through the open door the off-stage Larry delivering a political speech in the street. In both cases, Larry’s entrance into the house and conversation with Sally suggests that he is seeking escape from the ungrateful and hard to impact public sphere into the more achievable private sphere of romance. Ben Harker argues that both versions of the play put more stress on Larry and Sally’s romantic relationship than the novel does, but the dialogue partly resists the idea that this could entirely replace Larry’s political vision. Sally plays a clear role in this by showing her explicit understanding of Larry’s feelings of defeat and his new-found desire to escape from politics into romance:

SALLY  Ah see what y’ mean. Ah’m interfering, like. If you feel that way perhaps y’d better not come any more.

LARRY  But you don’t understand, Sal. I’ve changed – you’ve changed me… it makes all I’m fighting for – ideals and politics and all that – it makes it …well, it doesn’t seem to matter like it did.

SALLY Then you’d best forget me standing on yon rock and such-like rubbish (p.20).


If Larry is tempted to see the personal as a replacement for the political, Sally reminds him sharply in a number of lines that his politics are part of what she finds desirable about him: ‘Ah don’t know what you’re after, proper, only to mek things better. But Ah knows you’re a fighter, an’ that’s good enough for me’ (p.20). Romance is thus partly recruited to a political purpose, rather than replacing politics entirely, though this adaptation does refocus the struggle as less collective and more individual: ‘Listen Sal, we’re going to fight it, you and me together. We’ll be different from the others’ (p.23). This refocusing, coupled with Larry’s death, makes Sally the predominant character throughout the play (as The Times review noted of the London production: ‘Mr Berkley’s briefer study of Larry – for Larry is killed in a political demonstration- is a clear unsentimentalised accompaniment to Miss Hillier’s central portrait’). (7)


A further change to the sequence of the novel just before the séance is also worth noting. Larry and Sally go on their rambling outing to the countryside quite early in the novel and Larry’s sacking from Marlowe’s comes considerably later. But in the play Larry says during the hike that he has been sacked. This must therefore be the second outing where Sally accompanies him, because of references to the first ramble in Act 1. Thus, the only scene suggesting a world outside Hanky Park is heavily overshadowed by Hanky Park’s presence and the escape it represents is clearly a very temporary one. Unexpectedly in that this might reverse one’s expectation of what is most likely in a novel and drama, the rambling scene is only portrayed in the novel through Sally’s account of it to her mother (pp. 95-8), while in the play it is presented directly so that the audience witnesses Larry and Sally’s conversation on the high moorland thirty miles from Hanky Park. The Samuel French US edition has a useful set photograph showing the stage ‘rock’ which forms the set for this scene described in the stage direction: ‘On the moors. A high cleft between the rocks, commanding a view over many miles of moorland country, stretching towards the sunset’, between pp.64 and 65).

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In the novel, the second-hand account may reinforce the general confinement of the characters to Hanky Park itself, while the actual enactment of the scene in the play reinforces the centrality of Sally and Larry’s personal experience and their developing romantic engagement. However, the presence of Hanky Park is reintroduced in several ways including through dialogue about whether the beauty of the sunset is paradoxically a product of the pollution of the city: ‘They say it’s the sunshine through the smoke’ (p.75), and comments about a cloud shaped like Sam Grundy. The scene might re-focus the story on Sally and Larry’s individual situation, but there is still a critique of merely individual escape built into the dialogue:

SALLY: Larry, we’ve got to get out.

LARRY: (bitterly) Yes, climb out roughshod over the others, but Hanky Park will still be there. (p.78 Manchester version)


The characters and circumstances who work against Larry and Sally are also changed radically in the play. In the novel, Ted Munter and Sam Grundy both play a part in Larry’s loss of his job, together with managerial decisions at Marlowe’s and Government decisions about Russian orders, while Ned Narkey is a further source of danger, though in fact it is an unnamed policeman who actually strikes Larry during the demonstration. In the play two of these parts are deleted from the cast with a considerable effect on the role of Sam’s character (though the newly added character Charlie plays a small part too). While the London edition describes Sam as ‘a not unpleasant man’ in its ‘Description of Characters’ and a stage direction, he is in many ways represented as more wicked and much less ambiguous in the plays than in the novel. Here, without the complicating assistance of Ned Narkey and Ted Munter, he becomes a more clearly individual originator of malice as he takes over some of their functions, and, indeed, some of their speeches. Sam first enters in Act 2, Scene 1 to pay Harry his winnings and advertise his own reliability as a bookie for whom the sky’s the limit – indeed he takes the opportunity to sell further threepenny trebles: ‘tek one for t’wife an’ little ‘uns too. There’s nowt like it. Better’n insurance any day’ (p.66). Sam is genial while paying out the money and continues in a similar vein when at first he talks to Sally, though the stress remains on the material good he can do for her if she accepts his terms. However, once Sally has named Larry Meath as someone who will defend her, Sam immediately becomes more aggressive: ‘Turning me down for a white-livered Bolshie! Yah! Y’re daft’ (p.70). These lines, or conspicuous words within them, derive from the novel’s Ned Narkey and Ted Munter, who refer respectively to Larry as a ‘white-livered conchie’ (p. 135) and to the political activists in Marlowe’s in general as ‘Bolshies’ (p. 184). Once Sally exits contemptuously, Sam turns immediately to action against Larry through two intermediaries, Charlie and Ted Munter. Charlie is the messenger who is to tell the off-stage Ted Munter that if he uses his influence at the works to get Larry sacked then his betting debts will be cancelled. This simplifies the chain of events which takes place in the novel and makes Sam clearly responsible for Larry’s dismissal. In the play, Sam’s power runs straightforwardly and unimpeded throughout Hanky Park.


Ned Narkey’s deletion from the play version constitutes a major difference from the novel – and it is a deletion which in most respects continues on into the film version too (Ned does appear in the film, but he is hardly the Narkey we have learnt to hate in the novel). His removal reduces the size of the cast, but it seems likely that he is a character who was perceived as problematic in a stage or film version, since he shows the police in a bad light. Ned in the novel is presented as excessive in a number of ways: he is enormously strong, angry, violent, unthrifty, a swearer, a drinker, jealous, sexually predatory, unfaithful, contemptuous of women, and a violent exploiter of them. Paradoxically, he is also seen by some (boys, Ned himself, and his former officers) as an admirable working-class type – strong and a war-hero. Though Sam Grundy knows very well that Ned is a source of danger even to him, he exploits this reputation to place Ned in the police-force and neutralise his danger by making him indebted to his patron. In the novel, part of the point of this is clearly about corruption in a literal sense and more widely about a corrupt social order where the breaker of laws and obligations is most likely to become the guardian of order. Equally, Ned also represents another important inequality in which the novel shoes interest – the ways in which some working-class men exploit working-class women. His deletion is therefore a loss to the play versions – but this move avoids complicating their representation of working-class men as mainly noble and/or victims, and also perhaps avoids too open a critique of authority.


The end of the play follows the events and speeches of the novel’s conclusion quite closely, with Mr Hardcastle drawing on the language of ‘respectability’ (though his calling Sally a ‘whore’ is surprisingly direct and an addition) and Sally questioning whether that sensibility will get them anywhere under current conditions, and whether they or anyone in Hanky Park can afford such a moral code:

SALLY: Y’d have me wed, would y’? Then tell me where’s fellow around here as can afford it.  Them as is working ain’t able to keep themselves, ne’er heed a wife. Luk at y’self … An luk at our Harry! …Ah suppose Ah’d be fit to call y’r daughter if Ah was like that an’ a tribe o’ kids at me skirts. Well, can y’ get our Harry a job? No, but Ah can. Yes, me. Ah’m not respectable, but Ah’ve got influence. (p.121)

However, Sally at the end of the play, as so often throughout, is more prominent than at the end of the novel. Her final speech here reiterates the idea in the speech quoted above: ‘Things are different now t’ what y’ve been used to, an’ y’ve got to face things as they are, not as y’d like ‘em to be’ (p125). This is much more like a last word than in the novel, where there is still to come a comparison between the joy of Harry at having a job (without reflection on the cost to Sally) and the fate of most in Hanky Park – young men such as Jack Lindsay who has ‘no influential person to pull strings on his behalf’ (p. 255) – and the coda which virtually repeats the novel’s opening. In the play, Sally’s last speech is followed by a supportive speech from her mother (‘they say the country’s lovely in t’ springtime’) which implies that maybe Grundy’s bargain is too good to turn down, and a final line from Mr Hardcastle which evokes the pathos of his inability to fulfil his conventional masculine role as provider and the need to accept that his daughter’s selling of herself as a commodity is the only hope in this abnormal world which is not only tolerated but sustained by those with power : ‘Ah’ve done me best, haven’t ah?’ (p. 126). This ending shows Sally and her father’s conscious alienation from what they would choose to be in an even halfway-decent and equitable society, and the way in which the current social system so thoroughly reproduces an impoverished life that has come to be seen as normal and natural.


Like the novel, the play was praised by a wide range of reviewers working for newspapers across the political spectrum A review in The Times in many ways exemplifies how reviewers often saw the play as presenting facts rather than political argument and somehow found it politically unchallenging, yet also acknowledged it as making a clear, forcible and reasonable call for change:

Being conceived in suffering and written in blood, it profoundly moves its audience in January 1935 …it has the supreme virtue in a piece of this kind of saying what it has to say in plain narrative, stripped of oration. … The Hardcastles are an honest, hardworking unpolitical family…Old Hardcastle … is out of work. His wife …is baffled by a tragedy for which she cannot place the responsibility…Their son Harry … finding himself in a world that seemingly has no use for him, does not dispute its theory, but makes love and bets on horses… In the foreground are Sally Hardcastle and Larry Meath, pining for escape and seeing none…Presented with the facts, each spectator may for himself select their social or political causes. It is the whole strength and merit of the dramatists that they are content to tell their story and to leave gallery and stall to preach to themselves; and the man who can observe the Hardcastle’s kitchen without questioning himself a little had better, according to his means, spend the rest of his life in a ‘luxury’ hotel or at the dog-races. (8)

Here we have almost consciously articulated the way in which the Hardcastle family are regarded as sympathetic ‘deserving poor’, because they are unthreateningly ‘unpolitical’ and lacking insight into their own condition, and Sally and Larry are indeed read, as Harker fears, as wanting to escape Hanky Park as individuals only. But at the same time, though the reviewer will not articulate the possible political meanings of the play (it is notable that attention is drawn to the possibility of different social and political interpretations), it is hailed as presenting ‘facts’ which should have a humanist impact on anyone who sees the play. The audience member who does not question himself is seen as someone who can only attempt to escape ‘reality’ through luxury or betting (and is thus implicitly compared to Harry who has tried to escape his reality through betting).

(This article draws on material in chapter 2 of my book).


Note 1. Richard Overy, The Morbid Age: Britain and the Crisis of Civilization 1919-1939 (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 2010; first published by Allen Lane, 2009), p.71. The sales figures come from the University of Reading Special Collection, Jonathan Cape Archive, Mss.2446 (endnote 80 to Overy’s Chapter 2).

Note 2.  Stephen Constantine gives an account of contemporary estimates of the possible audience numbers in his ‘Love on the Dole and its Reception in the 1930s’. Literature and History, 8, Autumn 1982, 23-247; in a letter to The Manchester Guardian of 26 February,1940 (brought to my attention by footnote 1 in Carole Levine’s ‘Propaganda for Democracy: the Curious Case of Love on the Dole, Journal of British Studies, 45, October 2006, p. 846.

Note 3. Adapting to the Conjuncture’, p.59. His endnote 22 gives the source of Orwell’s observation in, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937; London: Penguin, 2001), pp. 79–80.

Note 4.  ‘Adapting to the Conjuncture’, p.59.

Note 5. See Samuel French’s Acting Edition no.184, Love on the Dole, 1938, pp. 54-5

Note 6. ‘Adapting to the Conjuncture’, p.63. See also his endnote 45 for details of Gow’s recollections, which are in referred to in Ray Speakman’s notes to Ronald Gow and Walter Greenwood, Love on the Dole (Oxford: Heinemann, 1986), p. 112.

Note 7. Jonathan Cape, Love on the Dole – a Play in Three Acts, 1935 (referred to in my text, and following Harker, as the Manchester version), Act 1, p.24. Subsequent references will be to this edition and will be given in brackets in my text (however, references to the French Acting edition or ‘London version’ will be given in endnotes to reduce confusion).

Note 8. 31/1/1935, p.12.