Love on the Dole in Newcastle – Another Unique Story, or, Anyway, Play-script (April 1935)

You may object that I cannot have a second unique story! But while this story resembles the unique publication of the whole of Greenwood’s novel as a serial in the Sheffield Independent newspaper in April 1935, it is different in being the story of the only newspaper to publish the entire script of the play. As in the Sheffield case, the paper must have invested a certain amount to acquire the rights to reproduce the play, and so must have had considerable faith that an increased or sustained readership would repay their investment. If anything, this initiative seems even more remarkable in that one might think a play-script less approachable for the ‘ordinary’ reader than the prose story. However, there was during the period a great interest in amateur drama, and clearly the Sunday Sun felt confident that its readers in Newcastle would be able and keen to read the play as a text, though as we shall see the editors did make some additions which might have made it a little more approachable on the page. In the advance notice the week before the serial began the paper reassured their readers that the story in play form was just as appealing as the novel, as well as outlining other virtues:

ENGLISH working-class life is fertile soil for the student of human nature, rich as it in flashes of unexpected beauty and in examples of supreme fortitude. The Sunday Sun, ever alive to the interest of its readers in this facet of human life, is privileged in being able to offer to its readers a unique insight into the everyday struggles of a family reduced to the depths of hardship. Next week it will offer to its readers the first instalment of Love on Dole the remarkable novel by Walter Greenwood which in its dramatised form has taken London theatregoers by storm. The play has been described as one of the biggest successes in years and the story is no less appealing. You must not miss the first moving episodes of this remarkable new contribution to North-Country journalism (7 April, 1935, p. 1).

The English working-classes are identified as a source of potential beauty and heroism in fiction, while the identification of the novel and play as being part of ‘North-Country journalism’ may imply not only how at home Greenwood and Gow’s work is in a Newcastle newspaper, but also that it has a factual and truthful basis. The following week, the play serialisation itself was proclaimed:

The Sunday Sun here publishes the first instalment of the play LOVE ON THE DOLE by Ronald Gow and Walter Greenwood. It has been generally acclaimed as the finest play of its type and it throbs with tense human interest. It portrays in stark language the family struggle to live on the dole, the thwarted ambitions, and the temptations to seek refuge in various illusions. Yet the story has an undercurrent of beauty showing that the flower of a gracious nature can bloom in the wilderness of poverty and disappointment. The play is adapted from Walter Greenwood’s successful novel of the same name.

This description whets the reader’s appetite for the play by identifying a combination of features – emotional interest, illusions of hope which keep people going, stark realism, and yet also (again) ‘an undercurrent of beauty’, blooming ‘in the wilderness of poverty’. In fact, this last figurative description of the play adapts (and considerably softens, perhaps with an eye on not deterring its audience) a metaphor used in the original novel and then again in a different form in the play version to describe Sally Hardcastle in relation to Larry Meath:

[Novel] On this dunghill of Hanky Park a rose was blowing for him. It, like all else, would shed its bloom. Not yet, though! Grasp it, grasp before it is too late (p.152).

[Play] LARRY: When I see you like that, with the red in your cheeks and your eyes lit up . . . [ellipses sic] you’re like a flower. (He laughs). A flower in Hanky Park. A rose growing on a rubbish heap. Hanky Park . . . [sic] we can’t get away from that (Cape edition, 1935, Act 1, p.23).

The emotional impact of the play is reinforced by a headline in a decorative box: ‘Great Human Play Which Tugs at the Heart-Strings’, together with a trimmed photo of a scene from the Garrick production showing Sally Hardcastle (played by Wendy Hiller) helping the distressed Helen Hawkins (played here as the caption states by Vera Sherburn). The page then continues with a list of the characters in the play and below that the Act title from the Cape edition: ‘The Gods Defied’. Indeed, the text throughout is that of the Cape edition – except that as in the case of the Sheffield Independent‘s serialisation of the novel in the same year, a number of sub-headings were added throughout, giving readers in effect a series of exciting headlines presumably intended to attract the eye and mind and to encourage them to keep reading to understand the detail of these ‘highlights’. Perhaps these also assisted the reader by dividing the script into quite clearly labelled thematic sections. Each of these sub-headings were printed within a decorative ‘box’. In this first episode of the play, the sub-headings include:

Reforming the World

‘Yon Feller – G.B.S.’

Memories of the Moors

The Love Pact

‘Like a Flower’

Short of Clothes

Hopes of a Treble

Harry’s Point of View.

If the reader did not know the play, these were probably enticing clues to contents which would shortly be revealed as they read on. If the reader did know the play, then they could easily guess to which parts of the play they related, and perhaps act as ‘short-hand’ reminders in advance of the pleasures and themes the play offered. In either case, these sub-headings, though drawn from language in the play, are new additions to the text of Gow and Greenwood’s work (totalling around one hundred and fifty words) and to an extent offer a slightly different experience from reading the play in the Cape edition or seeing it on stage, perhaps emphasising even more its links to popular genres.

The play, which takes up one hundred and twenty-six pages in the Cape edition, was published in this serial form in seven episodes between Sunday 14 April and Sunday June 2, 1935. The format established in the first episode was sustained throughout though with some variation after the first episode. Instead of the title Love on the Dole acting as the headline of the page, another new piece of text highlighted a key excitement in each episode while each was also illustrated by a photograph of the relevant scene taken from the Garrick Theatre London production. Episode headings included:

Sally Finds Romance in Hanky Park

Harry Wins a Threepenny Treble

Unemployed Clash with the Police

Death of a Hero

Bitter Quarrel in Hardcastle Household

Sally Faces Her Critics [the headline for the final episode].

There was also in each episode an initial ‘continuity statement’ to remind the reader where the narrative has reached. Some of these are very straightforward reminders, but several are highly interpretative and offer responses (to the play in general or to specific elements) not explicitly provided by the text or necessarily by its performance. In the third episode this statement as well as providing continuity also assures the reader of the wide impact of the serialisation:

Love on the Dole . . . is proving one of the most successful serials ever published in the Sunday Sun. It is appealing to all classes for the simple reason that it lays bare many of the elemental experiences of life in families hit by poverty.

Last week’s instalment closed with Mrs Jike beginning to tell the fortune of Sally Hardcastle (the heroine) from leaves left in her teacup (28 April, p. 6).

This might reinforce the reader’s investment in the story as both popular and significant. Moreover, it is confirmed as a story not of interest to only one class, but to all (working, middle and upper perhaps in one of the popular class schemas of the time?), because poverty matters to all – and indeed the choice of the word ‘hit’ suggests that given current events families not habitually poor can fall into poverty through neither choices nor actions of their own – very much the situation of the story’s Hardcastle family. From this broad conceptual approach to the play, the statement quickly returns the reader to a very specific detail of where the first episode ended, with the tea-leaf reading of Mrs Jike. This is then picked up allusively in the very first boxed heading at the start of this week’s instalment: ‘ Sally Is Angry’. This refers to Sally’s irritation at being exposed to what she is sure Larry will consider both superstitious nonsense and a form of mischievous gossip.

Similarly, the final episode is introduced with a strongly interpretative continuity statement which also chimes with the final photo caption:

[Photo caption] SALLY HARDCASTLE (played by Wendy Hiller) returns home unashamed of the way money and comfort have come to her.

[Continuity statement] SALLY HARDCASTLE who has led a new life since the death of her lover, Larry Meath, returns to her home at Hanky Park showing evidence of material comfort.

We know that a few clergy expressed the view in print that Sally had taken a wrong and easy way out in becoming Sam Grundy the bookie’s mistress, but the pieces of text in the Newcastle paper support outright a reading that sees her as claiming a right to a decent level of what it precisely terms ‘material comfort’, though the play itself sees her action primarily as a sacrifice made by her for her family, as well as a response to the trauma of Larry Meath’s sudden death (see: Love on the Dole and the Clergy).

As with the Sheffield serialisation of the novel of Love on the Dole, the Newcastle serialisation of the play made links to other news stories where relevant, and also to regional productions of the play. Unlike in Sheffield where a touring production of the play (at the Sheffield Empire) coincided with the serialisation of the novel, in Newcastle the play was serialised before it had been performed there, though there were performances relatively close by, and some part way through the serial . This presumably meant that many people may have read the play script courtesy of the Sunday Sun before they had seen it acted. However, links were made between the serialisation and theatrical production. For example, on 7 April, the week before the serial began, the Sunday Sun printed just a photograph of a scene in the Hardcastle’s kitchen with the simple caption ‘A Scene from Love on the Dole which is being played at the Sunderland Empire this week’ (p.3). On 19 May – part way through its serialisation – the Sunday Sun announced that:

One of the most talked-of plays of recent years is being presented this week at the Newcastle Empire . . . there is nothing hysterical about Love on the Dole, it is a straightforward, powerful, dramatic play – the tearing aside of the curtain by a master hand to reveal the courage, despair, petty triumphs and sufferings of gallant men and women struggling against enormous difficulties and hopeless odds (p3).

As in the several kinds of micro-commentaries added to the serialisation of the play, the paper asserts the dignity and difficulty of life for working people forced by current economic circumstances to a level below the poverty line.

On 5 May 1935, the Sunday Sun also chose to print a substantial piece about Gracie Fields in the column opposite that of the latest instalment of Love on the Dole, which surely by no coincidence focussed on Sally, though also on another story which might be compared with Gracie’s luck in making it – Harry’s stroke of luck in winning his treble bet with Sam Grundy. Thus the page juxtaposed the two headlines:

GRACIE FIELDS – She is Britain’s Highest Paid Star, but she is still a Mill Girl at Heart (together with a photograph of Gracie)

and

Romance on the Moors (together with a photograph of Wendy Hiller).

The article about Gracie Fields (by Cyril James) does not refer explicitly to Love on the Dole, but does talk extensively about Fields’ ‘humble’ northern background in ways which beg comparison (in fact Gracie had already been quoted in an article in the Daily Herald on 5 February 1935, p.10 on her wish to play the part of Sally Hardcastle in any forthcoming film version of Love on the Dole). The opening paragraph says that only Gracie can appeal to all British audiences:

Only one woman on stage to-day . . . can evoke the same response from the audiences of the West End and the patrons of theatres in the tougher part the provinces. Only one woman can equally delight sophisticated Londoners and matter-of-fact realists of say the North before whose critical eyes the smartest business has the habit of falling alarmingly flat (p.14).

This echoes ideas about the broad appeal of Love on the Dole which the paper had aired in some of its commentary on the play during April (quoted above). The article continues by stressing Gracie Fields’ origins and how she made it to stardom through hard work and perseverance after initial failure:

Her Start in the Mill

Gracie was born in a tiny house in Rochdale. It stood in an obscure street which seemed wedded to its surrounding world of smoking stacks, clattering clogs, dingy shawls, a world of fugitive laughter, of harsh reality . . . There followed years of badly-paid work. She was just another Lancashire chorus girl no better and worse, apparently, than thousands of others . . . Success came slowly, won only by years of hard work. Then came the years of her earlier triumphs. In her teens she met the man who gave her that last degree of faith in herself which is necessary to the greatest success – Archie Pitt.

This also has some kinship with Sally’s story as it is developing in this current episode of the play, though of course it goes tragically wrong, while Gracie’s progresses triumphantly. Both are a kind of natural ‘star’ in their own environment – indeed it seems possible that Greenwood had Gracie Field partly in mind when he wrote the character of Sally – a character newly invented when he on the advice pf the novelist Ethel Mannin turned his original collection of Hanky Park short stories into a novel. It is noticeable that in his early short stories about Hanky Park (at least in the form we have them in The Cleft Stick from 1937), there was no dominant heroine or hero – these were only needed when he transformed his short fiction material into a unified novel. Gracie Fields had however had a big hit as a character called Sally with her 1931 song ‘Sally’ (which featured in her 1931 film Sally in her Ally, Associated Talking Pictures, director Maurice Elvey) and I have sometimes wondered (though this is speculative) if this was an influence on Greenwood’s choice of his Lancastrian heroine’s name, probably sometime in 1931 or 1932 (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_in_Our_Alley_(1931_film) and listen to the 1931 Decca record of Gracie singing ‘Sally’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A5f5xzQAYU). Later in the thirties Greenwood and Fields certainly admired each other and were on friendly terms (see: Walter Greenwood and Gracie Fields). Gracie Fields, the Sunday Sun article makes clear, has emerged as a star, yet not lost her original mill-girl identity. Something similar may be suggested, though with a harsher contrast, by Greenwood / Larry’s ‘rose on the rubbish heap’ imagery, which I think is reinforced rather than negated by Sally’s line in the play ‘Ah’m not a film-star Larry. Ah can manage as others do’ (Cape, Act One, p.22).

The Newcastle serialisation of the play is yet one more instance of the popularity and impact of Greenwood (and Gow’s) work, and of what we might now call its ‘multi-media’ distribution. If you had heard about Love on the Dole in 1935 and were keen to know what the attention was all about you could read the novel or read the Cape edition of the play (both available in many public libraries as well as bookshops), you could go and see the play which toured nearly every city in Britain after 1935, you could listen to an eight-minute extract, the whole of Act Two Scene 2, on the BBC Northern Region wireless (in March 1936 anyway), or you could go and read the serial of the novel in Sheffield or the serial of the play in Newcastle. The film, of course, struggled with the British Board of Film Censors for a further five years till production was allowed to begin at the end of 1940. In his memoir of 1967, There was a Time, Greenwood recalled that 1933, the year Cape accepted his typescript of Love on the Dole for publication, was ‘a wonderful year’ (p.249). However, perhaps even more remarkable was 1935, when via collaboration with Ronald Gow, Love on the Dole reached a mass audience through prose, play-text and performance, and brought both its writers a secure income, as well as giving a wide range of audiences from across class-backgrounds insights into the inescapable effects of poverty and unemployment (See: Walter Greenwood’s Finances and Love on the Dole).