At the launch of my book hosted jointly by the Working-Class Movement Library and the University of Salford Library, one of the questions I was asked from the audience was whether Walter Greenwood became a millionaire after the success of Love on the Dole. (1) I said I thought not, but that I thought he had earned a very decent living from it and then from subsequent works so that he was able to live on his royalties and other literary earnings as a professional writer for the rest of his life. I do not at present have the evidence to give an overview of his literary finances over his whole career, but I have recently found a range of sources for the financial impact of Love on the Dole for its author, which allows me give a slightly less impressionistic answer to this interesting and fundamental question about Greenwood’s writing career.
Certainly, the success of the novel transformed his life, and then was reinforced by the equal or probably greater success of the play. A first-person autobiographical account by Greenwood in Tit-bits (24/7/1937, p. 3) had the headlines, ‘Squalor, Sweating, the Dole’ and then opened ‘I HAVE ESCAPED!’. (2) In his nineteen-fifties book, Lancashire, part of the Robert Hale County series, he recalled vividly what it felt like going rapidly from having no spare cash at all to being able to choose to spend some money on anything within reason:
Until the age of thirty-two I never knew what it was to have a penny to spare… Suddenly there came an access of fortune. A letter from my literary agent concluded as follows: ‘…according to your instructions, therefore, we have credited this sum to your account at the King Street, Manchester Branch of the Midland bank’ … I walked up the steps [of the bank] … I was wearing a thirty-two-shilling made-to-measure suit which I had bought over a year ago … I took a deep breath and said: ‘A hundred pounds.’ … Mr Threlfall [the cashier] reached an enormous bundle of mint-new notes, tied with pink tape from a drawer… He did not count them. I did … I remember buying myself a 35s shirt, sixpennyworth of cocoanut ingots, twenty Gold Flake cigarettes, a box of Swan Vesta matches, a cup of coffee and a Manchester Guardian. The feelings that were mine came straight from heaven. (3)
The Midland Bank building in King Street is itself an imposing design by Sir Edward Lutyens and was only just completed in 1935. Occupying a whole block in itself, its strong vertical presence may have added to Walter’s sense of being over-awed and in an unfamiliar environment (4). His ideas of luxury at this point were clearly not extravagant (except perhaps for buying what might have been a relatively superior shirt).
That personal account is helpful for its striking sense of how it felt suddenly to have some disposable income and a bank account, but, the hundred pounds and garment prices apart, it does not give us any figures. However, there are some news-stories which help us further, including two rather curious reports, one of which supplies some precise figures and also seems to suggest financial troubles for the author in 1937. The first set of financially suggestive sources are about Greenwood being sued for breach of promise by his former fiancée, Alice Myles. Greenwood announced his intention to marry Alice, whom he said he had known for seventeen years, in early 1935, and this was reported in a number of papers (including, for example, the Nottingham Journal, 1/2/1935, p.1). By October 1935, papers were reporting that Alice had issued a writ against Greenwood for breach of promise – that is breaking his promise to marry her (including the Sheffield Daily Independent, 12/10/1935, p. 1). Breach of promise had legal consequences for men in England until legal changes in 1970. The legal consequences were because a promise of marriage was seen as a legal contract and the breaking of this contract was regarded as having serious financial and reputational impacts for the woman involved. (5) By 29th November 1935 the Salford Reporter could announce that Greenwood (now elected a Salford City Labour Councillor) was to settle out of court: ‘City Councillor to pay £700 damages and costs.’ (6) This suggests that by then he was really making quite considerable money from his literary success – this was presumably an affordable amount of damages for him to pay, leaving him a viable income. Compare £700 to the pay of the skilled engineer character Larry Meath in the novel of Love on the Dole who is said to be earning a good wage at 45 shillings a week, which would amount to a ‘salary’ of £117 a year. I also note that in the Nottingham Journal report above about his intended marriage there is a final paragraph observing that Greenwood has been offered ‘a four-figure sum’ to write a film-scenario for the music-hall, radio and film star Sandy Powell, suggesting Walter’s potential earning power. (7)
Greenwood was much in the news in 1937, mainly because of the continuing success of the play of Love on the Dole (co-written with Ronald Gow), the success of his second novel His Worship the Mayor (1934) and its play adaptation (Give Us This Day, sole-authored this time, 1936). However, another popular story was of his marriage on 24th September to the American dancer Pearl Alice Osgood, which was very widely covered (and a kind of sequel to his breach of promise case). The Daily Mail could not resist the headline: ‘Love (not) on the Dole’ (which of course in itself reflected the change in Greenwood’s fortunes – though Pearl was also a high-earning artist in her own right). (8). However, one story about him seems to have been less widely reported: that he had lost all his money since the success of Love on the Dole. As far as I can see, this was reported by only two papers – and they (and Greenwood who is interviewed in each report) – seem to contradict each other. Perhaps more importantly, in the course of one of the reports, Greenwood gives some direct testimony about his income from the play of Love on the Dole. The Daily Mirror reported that Greenwood after earning ‘£100 per week’ from the play version had lost it all by lending it to friends who had not repaid his loans. Greenwood is also quoted as saying (which mathematically follows) that he had earned ‘around £5000 in the year after the play was put on’ (11/9/1937). The following day the Sunday Chronicle carried another interview with Greenwood in which he denies the rumour that he has lost all his money. He says that paying his breach of promise damages and costs had been a significant sum, but he explicitly states that it is not ‘true that I have been robbed by so-called friends nor lost all my money.’ (12/9/1937). (9) I am at a slight loss to explain why Walter seems to have opened up this story one day and then denied it the next day (unless perhaps he simply lost control of the message in the Daily Mirror interview?). My sense of him is that having emerged from poverty, he was careful with money and always keen to ensure that he made his living from his writing and associated business interests such as his production company Greenpark. (10) If he earned £5000 from the play version of Love on the Dole in a single year then he was certainly making a very good living from his writing (and presumably that was not the whole income from the play, since Ronald Gow must surely have been drawing a fair share too). When Greenwood had a short story accepted by the Story-Teller magazine in 1931, he was paid twenty-five guineas – enough he said to live on for six months: ‘a pound a week for half a year’. (11) Financially he had come a long way.
Note 1. 10/10/2018. My book is Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole – Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press: Liverpool, 2018. For launch see: https://www.wcml.org.uk/whats-on/events/not-just-love-on-the-dole-walter-greenwood-and-working-class-writing/
Note 2. In Walter Greenwood’s Press Clippings Book, Volume 1, p.121, at the Walter Greenwood Collection: http://www.salford.ac.uk/__data/assets/xml_file/0007/530476/Greenwood.xml
Note 3. Robert Hale: London, 1951, pp.9-11. Greenwood was thirty-two in 1935, perhaps implying that earnings from the novel took some time to come through, or that it was the play which brought in serious money?
Note 4. For further information about the building see: http://www.lookingatbuildings.org.uk/cities/manchester/walks-and-tours/manchesters-banks/king-street.html and its Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_King_Street
Note 5. See Wikipedia entry on ‘Breach of Promise’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breach_of_promise
Note 6. Sadly, I confused the details and references of this story in my book and reported it as taking place in 1934. Looking again at the sources, I’m now certain it unfolded during 1935 (pp.214-5). If there is ever a second edition, I’ll put this right!
Note 7. Sandy Powell was a big star in the thirties and forties and still performing on television from time to time up until at least the nineteen-seventies. He had made large amounts of money from the unlikely-seeming medium of wide sales of 78 rpm records of some of his acts quite early in the thirties. His income would surely have made Greenwood’s look very moderate. The film-scenario by Greenwood does not seem to have gone ahead. See Powell’s Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Powell_(comedian)
Note 8. From clipping (undated) in Walter Greenwood’s Press Clipping’s Book Vol. 1 (WGC/3/2). See some discussion of reporting of his marriage in my book, pp. 213-15.
Note 9. Both reports are pasted into the same page (p.134) of Greenwood’s Press Clippings Book Vol.1 (WGC/3/2).
Note 10. Founded in 1938 in partnership with his friend and accountant James Park. The company still exists as a film archive called Greenpark Images – see http://www.greenparkimages.co.uk/ .
Note 11. From his memoir, There Was a Time (Jonathan Cape; London, 1967), p.215. A guinea was a way of referring to the sum of one pound and one shilling, so twenty-five guineas was worth twenty-six pounds and one shilling. To make it last for sixth months, Greenwood would have needed to spend a maximum of just over £4 per month. No wonder he had to buy thirty-two-shilling suits and make them last.