Walter Greenwood’s Creative Partnerships

Walter Greenwood photo

(Walter Greenwood; photograph by Howard Costner, 1941?; National Portrait Gallery  NPG x 1886; Creative Commons Licence M63079)

One thing I did not really attempt in the literary-biographical chapter of my book was to reconstruct the personality or character of Walter Greenwood – I mainly stuck to identifying the facts and sequence of his literary career. I might attempt a full-scale literary biography of him some time in the future. But, as so often with biographical work, one gets somewhat different impressions of the author from different sources. Ronald Gow (co-writer on the play-version of Love on the Dole in 1934) said in a public source that Greenwood was very easy to collaborate with: ‘Greenwood and I were able to work in perfect harmony’ (Hull Daily Mail, 9/6/1934, p.12) Others suggested that he could be a bit prickly and unclubbable  – even his friends and helpers Ethel Mannin and Arthur Wragg hint at this in some of their correspondence (letter from Wragg to Dick Sheppherd, undated, probably 1935, and from Mannin to Wragg, 23/8/1944, in V&A Archive’s Wragg papers AAD/2004/8 and AAD/2002/11 respectively). The writer Geoffrey Moorhouse, who knew Greenwood in the post-war period and wrote the 1986 version of the author’s Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry said that he was ‘guarded but affable’, relating this implicitly if somewhat opaquely to his class origins (archived entry accessed via the current online DNB Greenwood entry).

But one thing we can be sure about, though this has not previously been discussed, is that throughout his writing career, a relatively small number of creative partnerships were of great importance to him at different periods. My sense is that nearly all of these artistic and professional collaborations arose from or developed into friendships. In the article which follows I will outline in chronological order each of Greenwood’s main creative partnerships, the works which came out of them and the impact of these collaborations for Walter and for his collaborators.

Ronald Gow (1897–1993)

Greenwood’s first collaborator was Ronald Gow, who contacted him in 1934 to suggest that his novel would make a good play if approached in the right way. Gow was a schoolmaster who had begun by writing plays for school-boys and then experimented with film as an educational medium. In the early thirties he had a number of short plays performed on BBC radio and then had a success with his play, Glorious Gallows, about the slavery abolitionist John Brown (produced in London in 1933 and New York in 1934, published by the leftist publisher Gollancz in 1933, and followed by a film version in 1938). At this point this was really Gow’s only professional theatrical success, but he did have confidence, education and good contacts, including with the Manchester Repertory Theatre, which first staged the play of Love on the Dole. There are some later hints (for example in his 1936 novel, Standing Room Only) that Greenwood would rather have been sole author of the play of his novel, but at the time he seems to have co-operated willingly and to have keenly taken up the benefits of working with Gow.

Gow’s career also undoubtedly benefitted from the success of the play-version of Love on the Dole – and his personal life was also positively affected, since through the play he met the actress Wendy Hiller whose career was launched from her affecting and much-praised performances of the role of Sally Hardcastle. They married in 1937. The same year, Hiller starred in her first film, which had a script by Gow, and a role for George Carney who was to play Mr Hardcastle in the 1941 film of Love on the Dole. This was Lancashire Luck (British and Dominions Film Corporation, director Henry Cass: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029107/). Lancashire Luck was perhaps partly inspired by the play of Love on the Dole, in that it is about escaping from working-class poverty, but it is a much more about fantasies than realities. Here the fantasy of escape from working-class status is fulfilled through a large win on the pools for the father of the working-class family, and through marriage to an aristocrat for the daughter.  Gow went on to have considerable success as a writer for film and then TV, and Penguin considered Gallows Glorious an important enough play to reprint in their Penguin Plays series (no 31) in 1958. Gow currently has no Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, which seems sad. There are some signs in correspondence with the BBC in the nineteen-sixties that his part in the play-version of Love in the Dole was being forgotten, and that he was keen to reassert his contribution (Gow writes to remind the BBC that he must be credited as joint author of the play in a Radio Times listing – see my book p. 221 for further details). I am not certain that Greenwood and Gow were particularly friendly after the period of collaboration in the mid-thirties and some projects arising from it (such as radio broadcasts of scenes from the play in the thirties). In this case, I suspect that their relationship was more professional than personal.

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

D_H_Lawrence_passport_photograph

(Photograph by Unknown – Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10811058)

Greenwood again became the co-author of a play, though with a deceased partner, after being invited in 1936 to finish D. H. Lawrence’s three-act play My Son’s My Son, of which the third act apparently existed only in a draft form, for a single performance at the Playhouse Theatre, London (26 May 1936). Keith Sagar’s essay, ‘D.H. Lawrence: Dramatist’ reports that the unfinished manuscript was found in ‘a box in an attic in Vienna or Berlin’ (endnote 1), and this is the story which the Daily Herald published in a brief review of the production, before posing the question of whether it was possible for the audience to tell which parts were by Lawrence and which by Greenwood (27/5/1936, p.11). It has emerged more recently that the manuscript Greenwood was asked to complete as My Son’s My Son was in fact the same play as the Lawrence play now known as The Daughter-in-Law, of which a finished version by Lawrence did exist, as first published in Heinemann’s The Complete Plays of D.H. Lawrence in 1965. In fact, Sylvia Sklar argues that the missing act origin-story was never correct and that Greenwood was asked to adapt what was actually a more or less complete typescript of the play (see her The Plays of D.H. Lawrence, London: Vision, 1975, p.87). Greenwood’s typescript (WGC/1/4) and his hand-annotated typescript prompt-copy for the 1936 production are held by the Walter Greenwood Archive at the University of Salford: WGC/1/4/1. There is some discussion of the text of the play in John Worthen’s ‘Towards a New Version of D.H. Lawrence’s The Daughter In Law: Scholarly Edition or Play Text?’ (Yearbook of English Studies, 1999, pp. 231–46). Worthen says that the text was ‘revised and at times rewritten by Walter Greenwood’. Presumably Greenwood was thought by the producer, Mr Lion, to be a particularly suitable co-author with Lawrence given their shared working-class background, the working-class setting of the play and its use of working-class/regional dialect. Greenwood had used a quotation from Lawrence as one of his epigraphs in the first edition of the novel Love on the Dole, so might be thought to share some of Lawrence’s beliefs and interests. Perhaps also Greenwood was by this time something of a celebrity and his association with the production could only do it good in terms of publicity. Since most scholarly interest in this play has (naturally enough) been focussed more on Lawrence than on Greenwood, I will in due course write a separate article on how different Lawrence’s and Greenwood’s versions of the play are.

Arthur Wragg (1903-1976)

Arthur Wragg

(Photograph by Howard Costner, 1930; National Portrait Gallery NPGx 93490;Creative Commons Licence MW 53784)

Greenwood and Wragg produced just one book together, but I think it was a significant one which should be much better remembered. The Cleft Stick was published by Selwyn & Blount in 1937 (and by Frederick A. Stokes in the US the following year). It was a collection of Greenwood’s short stories, each set in Hanky Park, and with each story accompanied by one of Wragg’s brilliant illustrations (and in his hands an obsessive and often very dark-toned monochrome could be brilliant). In fact, many of these short stories were the first things that Greenwood had written and in effect a first (if very different) attempt at depicting working-class life in Salford (for a fuller account see The Cleft Stick article).Wragg for his part was a very talented and idiosyncratic illustrator of humble origins who developed his own British version of German expressionism to portray and critique Britain in the Depression. His work and that of Greenwood work together wonderfully in The Cleft Stick, an art/story collaboration which certainly deserves to be reprinted.

Wragg had his first successes at almost exactly the same period that Love on the Dole in both novel and play versions came to public notice – and he was as celebrated an artist as Greenwood was an author. The Psalms for Modern Life was published in 1932. This was in one way simply an illustrated edition of the Psalms, but in another way the stark and unexplained juxtaposition of black and white drawings of scenes representing or symbolising modern life and the very well-known Biblical texts called into question the meaning of Christianity for British society. Then came Jesus Wept – a Commentary in Black-and-White on Ourselves and the World Today (1934), which focuses on poverty, inequality, exploitation, unemployment and the threat of another war. Wragg and Greenwood probably met sometime in 1935 as an indirect consequence of the success of the play version of Love on the Dole in the London production at the Garrick Theatre. A full-page article by Hannen Swaffer about the play version of Love on the Dole in the Daily Herald on 1 February 1935 lists a number of people who have explicitly praised the play, which included Canon Dick Sheppard, who it is said asked to be introduced to the author, as well as Lady Cripps, the wife of the prominent Labour politician Sir Stafford Cripps. By this time Sheppard was already a friend and patron of Wragg and it seems that people in his circle, and especially Stafford Cripps, made a point of putting Wragg and Greenwood in touch. Indeed, it seems from a letter from Wragg to Dick Sheppard (undated but probably from 1935) that it was Cripps who encouraged Greenwood and Wragg to co-produce a book about the condition of England, resulting in due course in The Cleft Stick, 1937 (for full details see my book, pp. 212-13). The book seems a significant textual-pictorial achievement to me, and it was greeted as such by UK and US newspaper reviewers in 1937 and 1938. It was perhaps only the outbreak of war in 1939 and subsequent paper rationing which prevented further reprints of this magnificent work. Indeed, we badly need a reprint now to allow contemporary readers to read what was a major work of working-class fiction / art (see separate article on The Cleft Stick). Wragg and Greenwood remained in touch for some years after 1937, and Greenwood seems to have gone to stay quite often in Polperro in Cornwall where Wragg lived at this period (for example, the Cornishman reports that these two ‘distinguished persons’ both came to see productions in the Cornish Shakespeare Festival in August 1939 (24/8/1939, p.10). Though the two creative artists did not produce another book together, some of Greenwood’s later novels were set in Cornwall, reflecting a lasting geographical influence, at least, from this collaboration.

James Park (born? died?)

James Park was a local Labour politician from Salford, who probably came to know Greenwood when was elected a councillor in 1934. Park had been a councillor of Kersal ward since 1926, and continued to represent it until 1942, when he became Lord Mayor of Salford (see Manchester Evening News, 23/6/1941, p.3). At some point Park became Greenwood’s accountant (presumably to deal with the consequences of the financial success of Love on the Dole and other works and Greenwood’s translation to the status of professional writer). In 1951 Park was still active as a Labour politician and was an alderman in Salford, as Greenwood’s dedication of his book of that year, Lancashire, makes clear. I have so far not been able to locate an obituary or other sources for Park, but he was still an alderman in March 1956, when it is recorded that he led his 21st budget as chair of the Salford Council Finance committee (the Guardian, 22/3/1956, p. 16). I would welcome any further information about James Parks. Though this might not sound like an obviously artistic partnership, it was a friendship which led to an important creative initiative which has been notably under-explored.  In 1938 Greenwood and Park entered into a partnership to found a production agency called Greenpark. Its ‘memorandum and articles of association’ stated that the company was founded to ‘Carry on the Business of Producers and Promoters of Electric Cinematograph Pictures, Picture Theatres, Music halls, Stage Plays, Operas, Operettas, Burlesque, Vaudevilles, Ballets, Pantomimes, Revues, Concerts, Spectacular Piece and Bioscopic Pictures’. Greenpark still exists and since 1997 has been mainly a company marketing its film and picture archive under the title Greenpark images (part of this history and the quotation are taken from the company website http://www.greenparkimages.co.uk/Company-History/I9.htm, accessed 9 June 2017). This might sound more of a business partnership than an artistic one, and indeed, for the present I am assuming in the absence of further detail about the partnership that Park handled the finances while Greenwood dealt with more creative aspects to some degree (I do not know how many other staff the company employed). In his army records Greenwood certainly listed his occupation on ‘enlistment’ as ‘Film-producer and Author’, perhaps suggesting an active and productive role in the company (for further details see my book, p. 244, and footnote 136). The work of Greenpark in the late thirties and the nineteen–forties has been neglected, but the company certainly produced a considerable number of ‘information’ films (probably about thirty) between 1942 and 1950, some short, some more substantial, a number using creative and innovative techniques (for further detail see my book, p. 244 and footnote 138 and also the article ‘Walter Greenwood and Film’).

If is not clear how involved Greenwood was in hands-on production, it seems likely that through this film- work he may have worked with or been in contact with some interesting artists, including the documentary maker Ralph Keene, who worked on a large number of Greenpark films (see https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2ba17234a9 ; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0444734/). Greenwood may well have known Keene already, since newspapers in 1939 announced that he had been asked by Michael Balcon to produce His Worship the Mayor for Ealing Studios, but sadly the film was never made (see Daily Mail 21/2/1939, p. 8). Ken Annakin was a regular director for the company  – he later went on to have a long career as a director both in Britain and the US (https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b9eea6455; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002175/0). Another regular was John Eldridge, who also went on to a successful post-war film career (https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b9ee361c1; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0253168/bio). Other directors made only one film with Greenpark, including the documentary film-maker Humphrey Swingler (https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b9f38a08d; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0842718/ who made a film called The Cabots of Fraser Cove in 1949 (about a Newfoundland community, and with a script by the leftist novelist John Sommerfield https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sommerfield). Humphrey’s brother, the communist poet and activist Randall Swingler (http://www.letterpressproject.co.uk/inspiring-older-readers/2019-06-20/comrade-heart-a-life-of-randall-swingler) contributed the commentary to a 1947 Greenpark film sponsored by the Board of Trade called Five Towns. It was about the Staffordshire potteries and was directed by Terry Bishop, who after an early career in documentary directed a number of much-watched early British TV series including William Tell (1958) and The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1960 (https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2ba1275b5e; https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0084204/).

As I have observed elsewhere, Greenwood’s novels were quite often associated with documentary, but I do not think they did really draw on this thirties mode, being much more influenced by the nineteenth-century ‘condition of England’ novel (with the exception of his truly documentary non-fiction book, How the Other Man Lives, 1939). However, in his work for Greenpark, Greenwood really was involved in documentary production and with a number of significant documentary film-makers (and see also Eureka Stockade below, a feature film on which Greenwood worked with the documentarist Harry Watt).

Robert Newton (1905-1956)

RobertNewtonHighandMightyTrailerScreenshot1954

(The High and the Mighty trailer, 1954; Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10971690)

Greenwood met Newton sometime before the War – a post-war Glasgow Evening News report (10/10/1945) says that the two had spent a pre-war holiday in Cornwall, when  they bought and sailed a small boat with the distinctive name of the Randy Jollifer. This became the name of a major character in Greenwood’s 1945 play, So Brief the Spring: a Cornish Comedy, in which Newton starred as Jollifer. The play premiered at the Oldham Repertory Theatre on the first October 1945 (the Stage 4/10/1945). The anonymous reviewer from that professional paper thought that the play itself needed cutting and that in dealing with immediate post-war themes (demobilisation, the atom bomb and the Labour government) Greenwood had packed too much in. However, the reviewer did praise Newton’s performance as Randy, and saw it as his play. The character Randy is newly returned home from wartime service in the Royal Navy – echoing somewhat Newton’s own experience as an Able Seaman for over two years on the minesweeper HMS Britomart, before his medical discharge in 1943, and fortunately for him before the ship was sunk in error off the coast of Normandy by ‘friendly fire’ from RAF planes in August 1944 (Ben Warlow and J. Colledge, Ships of the Royal Navy, Casemate, Haverton, USA, 2010, p.55; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Newton; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Britomart_(J22)). The play was generally advertised as a star vehicle for Newton over the next year and attention was drawn to his war service and his return to the stage from recent successful film roles (including Night Boat to Dublin in 1946: https://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2b6b177672). The play was given other pre-London productions including in Aberdeen, Burnely, Brighton, Harrow, Hull, and Eastbourne – but in the end did not (as advertised) transfer to the West End Garrick Theatre, where Love on the Dole had been such a hit in 1935. Presumably the pre-London tour, though generally respectfully reviewed, was not financially successful enough to convince the London theatre management. Newton and Greenwood did not collaborate on any further projects (and after 1950 Newton was often working in Hollywood), but Greenwood dedicated the 1956 novel version of So Brief the Spring to Newton in 1956.

Harry Watt (1906-1987).

Harry Watt came from a well-educated family background, but though he started a degree (a BA in commerce) he did not complete it and instead joined the merchant navy as a deckhand for a period and before taking on a variety of other short-term manual jobs. He then became an assistant for John Grierson’s film work at the Empire Marketing Board and worked in that capacity on Flaherty’s distinguished film Man of Arran (1934), before following Grierson to the GPO film unit in 1936. Here Watt made his first films as director, including the very famous Night Mail of that year and a number of other well-regarded late thirties and war-time documentaries. He then joined Ealing Studios in 1942 (see http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/548238/). During 1944 Michael Balcon had the idea of sending him out to Australia on behalf of the studios to explore the film potential of the landscape and of Australian stories, particularly in response to Ministry of Information anxieties that the Australian war-effort was not being sufficiently recognised in film (see BFI http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/1002624/index.html). Watt as a result directed The Overlanders, which, as the BFI’s Mark Duguid remarks, is in many ways based in the US Western tradition but is also linked to a topical wartime scenario in which a cattle herder takes his cattle overland to escape a threatened Japanese invasion of Australian territory. The film was a great success – one of Ealing Studio’s two most profitable films so far.

This is the point where Walter Greenwood enters the story. The West Australian reported on 11/4/1947 (p.16) that Watt and Greenwood would be sailing from Liverpool to Australia on the 12th April to start work on a new film: Eureka Stockade (1949, distributed in the US as Massacre Hill). Watt and Greenwood as writer began with considerable support from the Australian Labour government (and Greenwood stayed in Australia for three months, returning to London in July (reported 12/7/1947, p.1 in the Kargoolie Miner). What has not been asked is why and how Greenwood became involved with the project (his work on the film’s story has barely been noticed). The Eureka Stockade (1949) had what appears at first an unlikely setting for Greenwood in 1850s Australia  – though his unfilmed script for a film of Six Men of Dorset might form a possible bridge, given its Australian scenes, and he would presumably have been aware of the very positive reception of the film of Love on the Dole there after its initial censorship. However, its central focus on a key event in the development of Australia as a democracy might have struck a chord with Greenwood – when gold miners suffering taxation without representation rebelled against the governor of Ballarat, Victoria. They took an armed stand in a hastily built stockade and were quickly defeated in a bloody battle with the police and a British military detachment. Afterwards, much public opinion across Australia turned against the governor and democratic rights were granted to the miners and all other white adult males to elect representatives to the Victoria parliament. Though this has not  been previously noticed, the story gave Greenwood a curious chance to revisit an aspect of Love on the Dole: the historical miner’s leader, Peter Lalor, is depicted as a moderate who tries to negotiate with the governor and who repeatedly tries to dissuade the miners from more radical politics and from armed revolt. He becomes their leader only when the governor refuses to negotiate, and is in the end elected as their MP: the scenes in the film strongly suggest that Peter Lalor and the Eureka Stockade are seen as reprising Larry and the Battle of Bexley Square, except that in this case the authorities push him into more radical activism and he survives to become a democratic political leader (some of this material first appeared in my book pp. 257-8; see also Walter Greenwood and Film).

The Australian press contained much discussion of the film, with quite a variety of views, perhaps only to be expected when the subject was a major event in the development of representative government and when questions about what constituted true democracy were very much current (there is an excellent essay on the NFSA National Film and Sound Archive of Australia web-site by Paul Byrne which explains the context of the film’s production under a Labour government and its reception after production in the context of a new Conservative government under Robert Menzies and in an emerging anti-communist cold war atmosphere both in Australia and more widely in the anglo-phone world (https://aso.gov.au/titles/features/eureka-stockade/notes/). There were also queries about the film’s historical accuracy (Melbourne Advocate, 9/6/1949, p.22), and about the decision to cast the Australian star Chips Rafferty (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chips_Rafferty) as Peter Laylor (Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 11/11/1046. p. 3). On the whole, there was a preference for The Overlanders in Australia and this was echoed in Britain too –though probably from a less knowledgeable or anyway differently engaged audience and reviewers. Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times felt that the film was too faithful to the facts – too didactic – that the material needed more dramatic shape, and that the dialogue was sometimes lumpen (30/1/1949, p.1). The Times reviewer felt that ‘Mr Watt’s Overlanders was a triumph, and his work is always distinguished when it has its roots in objective fact, but here his touch in the … presenting of human beings has deserted him’ (31/1/1949, p.7, unsigned). I have to say that I still think it is a movie well-worth watching and a good introduction to this key moment in Australian history, if from the perspective of the late nineteen-forties.

Boulting Brothers (John Boulting 1913-1985; Roy Boulting 1913-2001)

In truth the Boulting brothers were the collaborators who never quite were – but the potential is worth recalling. Neither of their proposed projects with Greenwood materialised. Though they and he put quite a lot of work into them, the projects were dogged by obstacles beyond their control. Alas, that we do not have these films.

There are various intriguing traces of evidence that Greenwood was working during 1942 to 1943 on a film project called England Arise! which took its title from Edward Carpenter’s socialist hymn from 1896. The columnist Hannen Swaffer refers to Greenwood’s projected film script of this name in the Daily Herald as early as 25 June 1941 (p.2). When I published my book, I thought this must be a Greenwood work now totally lost, but I recently discovered a letter from Greenwood to Arthur Wragg in the V&A Archives that this is not the case (15/1/1944 but in the file of Wragg’s papers AAD 2002/11 Correspondence 1935-1941). This letter makes clear that England Arise! was the original title of the novel he actually published as Something in My Heart in 1944 and which combined socialist and patriotic themes in a distinctly ‘People’s War’ story about the RAF (see my article). The letter records that Greenwood was also talking to the Boulting brothers about a film of this, but this project, he writes, depended on Roy Boulting being released from the Army Film Unit to work on it (since Roy directed the Unit’s Burma Victory which appeared in 1945, this clearly did not happen – see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on the brothers). John Boulting, who was in the RAF Film Unit, did while there make a film about the RAF with some general similarities to Greenwood’s novel in that it was about realising the worth of everyone who contributed to the war effort, though less explicitly socialist in tone. The film was Journey Together (1945) and the script was by John himself and the playwright Terrence Rattigan.

Some obituaries and Greenwood’s Dictionary of National Biography entry record without any further detail that Greenwood wrote a script in 1944 or 1945 for a film called Six Men of Dorset. This was not in fact made, but we can reconstruct its subject matter quite precisely and also why Greenwood might have found it an attractive project. The Evening News reported on 3 October 1945 that the actor and director Bernard Miles had told their film critic that he had recently been working ‘with Roy Boulting and Walter Greenwood on a script for The Six Men of Dorset’. This was to be part of an ambitious programme of post-war British film production by the Two Cities company. The Evening News saw no need to say anything further about ‘The Six Men of Dorset’ because it could presume that many readers would have heard of the play on which it was based – Miles Malleson and H. Brooks’ play Six Men of Dorset, published in 1934 to celebrate the centenary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs being sentenced to transportation for forming an agricultural union in 1834 and their subsequent pardon after mass demonstrations. The play was performed during commemorations at Tolpuddle in August–September 1934 and published by Victor Gollancz, who also published a second edition in 1937 for the Left Book Club (the only other play published by the LBC, also in 1937, was Clifford Odet’s Waiting for Lefty). A number of features of the play would no doubt have appealed to Greenwood, including its theme of indisputable social injustice enforced by the haves on the have-nots and the contrast between the standard English of the landowners, vicars, lawyers, and judges and the Dorset dialect of the six martyrs. The managing director of the Two Cities film company, Filippo del Giudice, a distinguished producer of British wartime films, including In Which We Serve (1942), told Kinematograph Weekly that the completed script for Six Men of Dorset was ‘a most satisfying film treatment’ (27 September 1945, p. 17). Del Giudice is said to have given his writers, directors, and actors ‘an exceptional degree of creative autonomy’, but he sold a controlling interest in his company to Rank in order to fund his production of Laurence Olivier’s classic 1944 film of Henry V. Thereafter Rank took over increasingly tight control of the Two Cities company, and two senior Rank employees (accountants and managers rather than creative workers) took it upon themselves to ensure Del Giudice worked in a more ‘commercial’ manner (see http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/476932/, accessed 26 October 2017; and Geoffrey McNab’s J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry, London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 87–90).It may well be that Six Men of Dorset was a victim of this change in ethos (see my book pp.246-7 for a slightly longer account).

Robert Donat (1905-1958)

GoodbyeMrChipsTrailer1

(Goodbye Mr Chips trailer – Public domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Donat)

Greenwood seems to have met the very well-known British film-star Robert Donat in 1945, when his new play The Cure for Love was produced in London. The play had originally been called The Sergeants’ Mess and an advert in the Stage on 8/3/1945 stated boldly ‘WANTED BIG THEATRES ONCE OR TWICE NIGHTLY’ (p. 6). The play had already had a so-called ‘provincial tour’ between January and March 1945, presented according to the advert by Parkwood Productions (who I take to be a twin to Greenwood and Park’s Greenpark company, presumably with a slightly different remit). Indeed, the Stage advert quoted enthusiastic reviews: ‘This is a Lancashire play the West End will thoroughly enjoy’ (Daily Dispatch); ‘Its war theme has sufficient wit and interest to remain grand comedy long after the war in Europe or the Far East is over’ (Evening Chronicle). Whether influenced by the Stage advert or not, Donat decided to include the play as part of the repertoire of his new Fanfare Productions venture, in which he revived for himself the role of actor-manager, in this case at the Westminster Theatre (see Kenneth Barrow’s Mr Chips – the Life of Robert Donat, London, Methuen, 1985, chapter 6, ‘The Manager 1943-1949’).

 

The play was first produced at the Westminster on 12/7/1945 and Donat took the starring role of Jack Hardacre, an army sergeant who returns on leave to his mother’s Salford home towards the end of the war. Renee Asherson played the female lead, Milly Southern, a billettee in his mother’s house, who eventually marries Jack. Indeed Donat and Asherson did themselves marry in 1949, after a relationship dating back to this time – Donat had in 1945 broken off a relationship with Deborah Kerr, who of course played Sally Hardcastle in the 1941 film of Love on the Dole. The London production also featured two other actresses who had appeared in that film, as members of the older female ‘chorus’: Iris Vandeleur and Marjorie Rhodes (but in this play Vandeleur plays Mrs Dorbel, rather than her film role of Mrs Nattle, while Rhodes replaces her Mrs Bull role with the new Greenwood character of Sara Hardacre, Jack’s tough mother). Barrow records that some critics thought Donat good in the play but that it lacked sufficient substance for an actor of his stature (p.150). Barrow himself is more sympathetic to the play, writing that ‘like many of its kind, [it] was light on plot, but rich in comedy’(p.150), and indeed the pre-London production really had been positively reviewed as highly entertaining by both national and regional newspapers. It returned to a further ‘provincial’ tour after the London production.

 

Barrow also says that Greenwood was one of the few life-long friends made by Donat during the course of his professional career, though also comments that there was considerable ‘acrimony’ in their financial dealings (he notes that the London stage production of The Cure for Love only brought in ‘£114, 4s 2d’ to Donat’s company, so perhaps there were disappointments on both sides, pp.151-2). Their friendship is attested to by continuing personal interactions unearthed by Barrow in correspondence over the years before Donat’s early death in 1958, aged 53 (see Barrow pp. 160, 166, 170, 187). Donat certainly showed great faith in The Cure for Love, despite the financial return of the play version, and invested both his energy and own money in bringing about (with some difficulty) a film version. Barrow tells us that Donat invested the very substantial sum of £20,000 in the project, his entire earnings from the successful film of Terence Rattigan’s play, The Winslow Boy (director Anthony Asquith, London Film Productions, 1948) in which he had starred as the barrister Sir Robert Morton (p.162). Barrow’s judgement is that ‘The Cure For Love was in no way an important film, and it was not a success’ (p. 162), a view shared by the Film Bulletin which printed one of its pithiest ever reviews – simply stating without even the luxury of a verb: ‘Ante-diluvian regional farce’ (Vol 17, no.193, January-February 1950, p.8: (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/media/mfb/1083496/index.html). However, as with the play, there were many favourable national and regional reviews, and the film certainly played widely in cinemas over the next few years (to publicise the film, the Plaza in Worthing offered a guinea prize for the best letter outlining a cure for love: Worthing Herald 30/12/1949, p.15). C.A Lejeune thought the film was ‘prime fun’ and indeed argued in the Sketch that ‘southerners’ did not understand the film and that really only ‘northerners’ (he, like Donat, was a Mancunian) could appreciate it:

When I came out of the Press-show full of a rich and secret enjoyment, my London colleagues clustered round with well-meant apologies … the sets were artificial and not realistic: there was no attempt at all, what a pity, to approach the subject documentarily … The secret of it all is, of course, that The Cure for Love is a joke for northerners by northerners (18/1/1950, p. 38).

Here Greenwood’s reputation as the grim realist and documentarian of Love on the Dole still evidently haunts him – at least for southern viewers. To read the film properly, hints Lejeune, one needs to see its connections to the Lancashire music-hall tradition. However, the BFI’s  Michael Brooke in his modern commentary reads the style of the film rather differently, and takes the view that for 1949 this was not a sophisticated film adaptation and looked every inch a filmed play: ‘Donat the director makes no attempt to disguise the film’s stage origins’ (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/453776/index.html).

 

The play indeed quickly became a firm favourite for amateur productions during the nineteen-forties and fifties (as many regional reviews and notices available via the British Library National Newspaper Archive attest). After a pause in the nineteen-sixties, there were a number of professional productions in the seventies and eighties, perhaps partly motivated by an element of nostalgia. The Bolton Octagon played it in February 1981 (the Stage reviewer, R.W. Shakespeare, thought the play ‘full of splendid characters and packed with choice lines and good jokes’; 26/2/1981). The last revival seems to have been at York (presumably at the Theatre Royal) in September 1986, when the reviewer Bill Anderson sadly observed that the play was now rarely to be seen but that is was ‘for those over 50 a gentle reminder of the working-class morality: the simple faith, hope, dreams that somehow survived the most cruel period in history’ (the Stage 18/9/1986). There was even a BBC 2 TV adaption in 1964 (15 October) when Marjorie Rhodes reprised the part of Mrs Sarah Hardacre which she had first played on the stage nineteen year’s before (the reviewer, Susan Kay, thought the piece old-fashioned, but entertaining and well-produced; The Stage, 22/10/1964, p.12).

Bernard Miles (1907-1991)

The first association between the actor and Greenwood which I have found is in a notice in the Stage for a wartime play about the Home Guard by Bernard Miles, called We Also Serve (there was a radio programme about the Home Guard with the same title broadcast in 1941 – perhaps Miles was involved in that too?; Lancashire Evening Post 8/3/1941, p.4). The play is to be ‘presented by Arena Productions Ltd, a new company formed by Bernard Miles, Walter Greenwood and Roy Boulting’ (26/10/1944, p. 4). Miles had already appeared in a Boulting Brothers short called Dawn Guard in 1941 (which was itself about the Home Guard), and perhaps he met Greenwood through their mutual contacts with the Boultings. But it was not until 1949 that they began to work together on a film project: The Chance of a Lifetime (released 1950). The film was made by Bernard Miles Productions and Miles also acted the part of George Stevens, one of the workers’ leaders. The film was not a financial success, but was controversial in its arguments for the need for co-operation between managers and workers. See Walter Greenwood and Film article for further discussion of the film.

Miles collaborated again with Greenwood after a long pause – he mounted the first London production of the author’s stage adaptation of his 1967 memoir, There Was a Time at his own theatre (the Mermaid in London) in April 1971. The play and production was praised, if slightly obliquely, by the veteran critic J.C Trewin:

I suppose that theatrically … this may not be much of a play… Really it is nothing but Walter Greenwood remembering the district in the slums of Salford where he grew up … [but] it can be often a moving experience… Just a document, no doubt, but for the most part an expressive one (Birmingham Daily Post 3/4/1971).

As so often Greenwood’s name is linked to the idea of documentary, but instead of the usual praise for his alleged documentary qualities. the mode is here seen as limiting a full dramatic experience.

 

Thora Hird (1911-2003)

Thora Hird

(Photograph by Allan Warren, 1974 – free to use: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thora_Hird)

Thora Hird played Mrs Dorbel in the 1949 film of The Cure for Love and this seems to have been her first contact with Greenwood. They became firm friends and she acted in and indeed inspired characters in two of his plays of the nineteen-fifties. Her performance in the play version of Greenwood’s Saturday Night at the Crown in 1957 was highly praised (to the point of eclipsing the rest of the cast and the play itself): ‘most will agree it has given her best acting assignment so far’ (West London Observer, 20/9/1957, p. 4). Greenwood next wrote another play designed to emphasise her talents: Happy Days, about a couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary with friends at Blackpool. It was first performed at the Coliseum Oldham in November 1958 and then ran for a successful summer season actually in Blackpool. The Stage reviewer saw it as very much Thora Hird’s play and also as a play which updated generic traditions to some degree:

Walter Greenwood’s new vehicle for Thora Hird … is as near as anyone has come to contemporary Lancashire comedy. The county clichés of fish and chips, Wakes Week, club money, the family cat, are still there, but the approach is farther from the clogs and shawl than Mr Greenwood has yet travelled … this new-look Lancashire romp could be another novelty winner.’ (27/11/1958)

Thora Hird later remembered that Greenwood asked her to promise never to forget her own accent (the Listener, vol 11, 1989, p.11). In the first volume of her autobiography Thora Hird recalls how much she enjoyed being in Walter’s play Saturday Night at the Crown, which ‘seemed to punctuate my life for many years.’ and is discussed across three chapters of her book (Scene & Hird – My Autobiography 1911-1974, W.H. Allen 1976; Harper Collins 1976, p. 262). She also talks about her close and long friendship with Walter (though reports that they often argued about her lines – presumably whether the playwright’s original or her suggested amendments were the better version). She remembers several things about Greenwood which I have never seen recorded anywhere else. Firstly, that his favourite topic of conversation was British history, about which he was very knowledgeable, and secondly that Love on the Dole was sent back to him thirty-nine times before being accepted by Jonathan Cape (p.261). However, her contextualisation of the conversation about rejections of his novel as taking place during a ‘whiskey all-in’ might perhaps make one approach this evidence with some caution. I had always thought that Greenwood was not a drinker, but perhaps I need to revisit that perception.