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Friday, September 14, 2012

J.B. Priestley, born 13 September

The Good Companion

Born in 1894, in what he called an "ultra-respectable" suburb of Bradford, Yorkshire, John Boynton Priestley enjoyed his first success with a novel about travelling theatre, The Good Companions in 1929.  Turned into a radio series, it ran for years, delighting millions of listeners.

He followed it with a realist novel about London life, Angel Pavement in 1930; later books include Lost Empires in 1965 and The Image Men in 1968. As a playwright he was often preoccupied with theories of time, as in An Inspector Calls in 1945, but had also a gift for family comedy, for example, When We Are Married in 1938.

Priestley served during the First World War in the 10th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. He was wounded in 1916 by mortar fire. In his autobiography, Margin Released he is fiercely critical of the British Army and in particular of the officer class.

He also did not like Churchill. During World War II, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC. The Postscript, broadcast on Sunday night through 1940 and again in 1941, drew peak audiences of 16 million; only Churchill himself was more popular with listeners. But his talks were cancelled. It was thought that this was the effect of complaints from Churchill that they were too left-wing; however, Priestley's son has recently revealed that it was in fact Churchill's Cabinet that brought about the cancellation.

He was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which began in 1958. So perhaps it is unexpected that when he was offered that chance of becoming a lord (in 1965) he turned it down.  A consistent man, he also turned down the gong of Companion of Honour in 1969.

He died in August 1984, in Stratford.-upon-Avon.

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