Reviews of Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film (Liverpool University Press, 2018) by Chris Hopkins

Chris Hopkins, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2018), pp. xii + 321, ISBN 9781786941794 (pb), £14.99.

By common consent, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole (1933) is a modern classic, the best novel on working-class life published in the interwar years. The book was a best-seller and was adapted for both the stage and – eventually – the screen. Novel, play and film were all enthusiastically reviewed by the critics. It was estimated that a million people saw the play in 1935 in Manchester, London and on tour. There were no fewer than eight BBC radio productions of Love on the Dole between 1942 and 1987.

The censors banned a proposed film version in the 1930s for showing ‘too much of the tragic and sordid side of poverty’, scenes of a mob fighting the police and the heroine Sally Hardcastle ‘selling herself’ to the local bookie to get jobs for her father and brother (141–3). But the outbreak of war changed all that. Love on the Dole was finally filmed in 1940 and released in 1941, complete with all the aspects previously declared unacceptable by the censors. Why? As Walter Greenwood wrote of the film in The Sunday Pictorial: ‘Love on the Dole was intended to point to the kind of Britain we don’t want after the war. A Britain of unemployment, misery, repression and injustice’(184).

Given this record of multimedia success, it is remarkable that we have had to wait until 2018 for a book-length study of Greenwood and his work. Ten years in the making, Chris Hopkins’s book was certainly worth waiting for. It is an exhaustively researched, painstakingly analytical and compulsively readable work which is essential for anyone interested in the social and cultural history of Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.

The book is divided into three sections: an analysis of the novel, a comparison with the stage and film versions and a literary biography of Greenwood with an account of his other published work. In his analysis of the book, Hopkins considers its language and structure, Greenwood’s conception of his readership, his examination of masculinity and his attitudes to sexuality and respectability, to betting and the police and to the nature of working-class aspirations. He discusses the extent to which the novel was autobiographical and also considers the criticism from certain left-wing commentators that the book was insufficiently radical in its critique of capitalism. However, in highlighting the cruelty and indignity of the means test, benefit cuts, pay cuts and compulsory redundancy, Greenwood was graphically evoking what Julien Mitchell, who acted in the touring version of the play, called ‘the tragedy of worklessness’ and often bringing it home to people who themselves had no direct experience of it (271).

Having been steeped in all things Greenwood for a decade, Hopkins has uncovered some fascinating facts. He charts the success of the novel in Australia and New Zealand. He reveals that the printed text of the play from the Manchester Repertory Theatre production was in phonetically rendered Lancashire dialect, whereas the text of the London production was in standard English. He has also discovered that the film version was made on the direct instruction of Sir Kenneth Clark, director of the Film Division of the Ministry of Information, as part of its propaganda programme to promote ‘The People’sWar’. This is confirmed by the epilogue provided for the film by the Labour Party minister, A. V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty: ‘Our working men and women have responded magnificently to any and every call made upon them. Their reward must be a new Britain. Never again must the unemployed become forgotten men of the peace’ (173). Hopkins demonstrates conclusively, by reference to contemporary reviews, that this epilogue was present in the film as released in 1941 and not, as some have argued, added for the 1948 reissue. Hopkins has also found out that there was a production of the play put on by prisoners of war in Changi jail, Singapore, in 1944.

What is surprising is the almost total neglect of Greenwood’s career post-Love on the Dole by literary critics and cultural historians. He remained active until the 1960s, publishing ten more novels as well as plays, film scripts and short stories, some of them involving characters who first appeared in Love on the Dole. His scripts for such significant British films as A City Speaks (1947), Eureka Stockade (1949), Chance of a Lifetime (1950) and The Cure for Love (1950) certainly deserve to be better known.

Despite his volume of work, Greenwood, like Richard Llewellyn of How Green Was My Valley (1939) fame, is still remembered for one book. But it is a book which has remained in print for nearly 80 years, which spoke directly to the nation both in the Depression and the war and which remains powerful and heartbreakingly relevant still today. It is to be hoped that Chris Hopkins, who has made such an impressive start at excavating the literary career of Walter Greenwood, will take the story forward to bring us fresh discoveries.

Jeffrey Richards (Lancaster University) Journal of British Cinema and Television (Volume: 16, Number: 1, January, 2019), pp. 122-124; DOI: 10.3366/jbctv.2019.0462


Chris Hopkins, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2018, pp. ix + 321, h/b, £90, ISBN 978 17869 41145

A select cohort of texts form a popular collection of sources to which historians turn when examining the lives of the poor in 1930s Britain – Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and Priestley’s English Journey, for example. Significant, and perhaps chief, amongst fictional accounts is Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, and it is this text which Hopkins examines in this thorough and well-constructed book. No book-length study of this text has been produced previously, and Hopkins wishes to fill this gap, relating the text to its social and literary context and to the development of Greenwood’s career. He argues that, despite the book becoming in the eyes of historians a ‘trustworthy documentary of the decade’ (2), its importance and influence have been underestimated.

The Introduction provides a concise discussion of 1930s Britain and the hardships faced by the poor. This background adroitly contextualizes the story portrayed in Love on the Dole, supporting a premise of Hopkins’s argument that the book accurately represented life for those in poverty. Thus it spoke to a wide and large contemporary audience and the accuracy rendered the text a valuable and reliable resource for subsequent students of, and commentators on, the period. Chapter one examines the book itself. Greenwood describes a world of industrial work and unemployment that would have been familiar to large swathes of the contemporary working class. Hopkins makes significant and well-argued effort to highlight how and why the book would resonate with a working-class readership, carefully analysing passages of the novel which mirrored reality for many in the Depressed areas during the 1930s. He also discusses and contextualizes some of the social issues presented in the book which were extant in 1930s society. This real-world familiarity, he argues, explains why the text spoke to Greenwood’s working-class readers, but also for them to an intended wider middle-class readership.

Chapter two then looks at the play and film versions and the adaptability of the text to these forms. In particular he comments on how the film version, finally produced in 1941 after an earlier refusal from the British Board of Film Censors, was amended to become a propaganda call for unity during the Second World War. The initial refusal was, states Hopkins, due to an unwillingness to support a film which portrayed the hardships and injustices of life in poverty in case it stimulated widespread social unrest – a comment on the power of the message which Love on the Dole presented. Hopkins considers the play slightly less political than the book, which Greenwood himself stated was ‘intended to be a harbinger of a New Britain’ (184). Making the play less politically controversial rendered it, at least in part, more palatable to a middle-class audience. Hopkins still regards the play as radical and hard-hitting, despite another commentator describing the book version as ‘one of the least radical novels of the 1930s’ (265).

Chapter three examines Greenwood’s life and other writings. Hopkins clearly emphasizes Greenwood’s personal experience of working-class life, his resultant socialist leanings and how these aspects influenced his writing, particularly the evolution of Love on the Dole. Hopkins also provides valuable insights into the social issues pertinent during the 1930s, and several accounts of how Salford responded to the growing unemployment crisis in the 1930s, providing an informative viewpoint on how national politics impacted communities at a local level. Although, as Hopkins admits, the chapter is by no means a complete biography, it provides a useful overview of Greenwood’s post-war work and influence up to 1974 – a period that has been, according to Hopkins, largely neglected by other studies.

Hopkins makes good use of both primary and secondary sources to support, and in some cases contradict, his analysis of the text and of the contemporary impact of the work, and to provide historical contextualization of the issues that the text highlights. A call in the House of Commons for MPs to see the play in order to understand the plight of the unemployed, for example, attests to the strength and relevance of the message portrayed by Love on the Dole, and the influence which Hopkins argues that the work had. Sources throughout include a good mixture of contemporary historical commentary and more recent printed and Web-based material. Hopkins asserts that no other working-class author reached as wide an audience, a bold statement for which he does not provide comparative statistics. Nevertheless, the evidence – the book remained in print into the 1990s; spawned theatre, film, radio, and television adaptations; was on television at various times from the 1930s to the 1980s; and is still referenced today by commentators on the 1930s – attests to the popularity and longevity of the text.

Hopkins writes from a background as a professor of English studies. He employs a multidisciplinary approach utilizing techniques of literary criticism to analyse the novel whilst, by his own admission, attempting to examine the film more as a film critic and historian. The results are clearly explained and he does not alienate those with little or no background in the disciplines. He balances generally positive commentary with negative reflections where appropriate. He occasionally assumes a knowledge of the book which some readers may not possess, but this is not a major criticism as his interpretations are well analysed and argued. Of particular value is the inclusion of good, well-supported discussion of 1930s working-class society and how this influenced, and was influenced by, Love on the Dole. Hopkins also provides useful access to additional material online for anyone wishing to study Greenwood further.

This book is both a criticism of Love on the Dole and its impact, and a commentary on life in the 1930s for the poorer working classes. It succeeds in both, and highlights why the work has had an important and pertinent message about poverty which has resonated throughout the decades. I can recommend Hopkins’s text to students and academics of 1930s British and literary history, and to anyone wishing to understand the impact of Love on the Dole and why it has remained relevant since its publication.

Mike Langthorne, Newcastle University, Labour History Review, Labour History Review, Vol 84, April 1, 2019: DOI/full/10.3828/lhr.2019.5