Thursday, 4 August 2011

Britain says "Goodbye" to an old 'northern' writer, once an 'angry young man', called Stan Barstow

Stan Barstow, who belonged to a generation of post Second World War 'working-class' writers and 'angry young men' in the late 1950's and early 1960's has died at the age of 83.

Things that you possbly didn't know about Alan, that he :

* Barstow was born in West Yorkshire where his father was a coalminer and said that 'there were no writers in the family,there were, in fact, few real readers.' said.

* left school in 1944, worked in a engineering firm , got married in 1951, settled into family life and remained in his job until his success with 'A Kind of Loving'in 1960 gave him the financial security he needed to become a full-time writer.

* saw his book adapted for the cinema in 1962, starring Alan Bates and June Ritchie with the late John Shlesinger directing his first film :

* unlike the writers Sillitoe and Storey, the 'Beatles' and other 'northern' successes of the 1960's, did not move south, though in the sequel to 'A Kind of Loving', 'The Watchers On the Shore' in 1966, Vic, the protagonist, left his wife for London bohemia.

* said, of his loyalty to the regionalism of the North, that "to hoe one's own row diligently, thus seeking out the universal in the particular, brings more worthwhile satisfaction than the frantic pursuit of a largely phony jet-age internationalism".

Obituary in the 'Washington Post' :

Little girl with Yorkshire accent familiar to Stan :

Yorkshire landscapes, food and language familiar to Stan :

As a 'Southerner' I met my first Yorkshireman, my old friend K.M., 46 years ago, when we were students living on the South Coast of England in Brighton. I remember, inside his old leather suitcase, he had a slab of 'parkin cake' and some bottled Tetley's Beer brought from home.

Here he is wearing his parka jacket, silk scarf and Buddy Holly glasses clowning around with an 'antique vase' with Eli and Malcolm outside the Glenside Hotel, where we stayed in Brighton and on the Univesity campus with Merfyn Jones and another student. Merfyn went on to become, some years later, the Vice Chancellor of Bangor University.

My post about Merfyn :


  1. I had the great privilege of meeting Stan Barstow in September 1972, if memory serves. As editor of a Glasgow student magazine I secured an interview with him at his home in Ossett, West Riding. He and his wife Connie very kindly put me up for the night in their detached house, which stood in a tree-lined avenue. I remember talking in the kitchen to Mrs Barstow's mother; a delightful lady with sharp clear memories of turn of the century Yorkshire. The kitchen had a small bookshelf containing, I remember, a hardback copy of 'Bleak House'. I sat in the lounge watching the Old Grey Whistle Test with Stan and Connie's son and daughter. Carly Simon was singing that night. Connie Barstow, a woman of acute intelligence and sharp wit, was a superb cook and baker. I recorded the interview the following morning over coffee. [I still have the cassette tape.] Stan spoke with immense fluency, not once pausing, stumbling or repeating himself. He never used notes. Forty years later I turn again to his three books of short stories. I particularly like 'This Day, Then Tomorrow' from A SEASON WITH EROS and 'The Apples of Paradise' from THE GLAD EYE. They speak to me in a way few other short prose works do; Sid Chaplin, AE Coppard and Caradoc Evans have that same quality. A place and its people remembered with the same kind of truth as a folk ballad or a child's playground song. Gwyn Jones has it too, though he can be bitter in a way Barstow never is. Just the other day I bought a Penguin edition of ASK ME TOMORROW, still in mint condition. It carried Stan's photograph at the back; he is smoking his pipe which he later gave up. BBC did a documentary about Stan under the ONE PAIR OF EYES series. You can see similar films featuring John Braine and Margaret Drabble on the BBC website; so why can't we see Stan? I will always remember the afternoon he drove me round Barstow Country in his car. We stopped on a hillside above Dewsbury where one of his characters had a house in his greatly underrated novel A RAGING CALM. There was no house there, just a grassy windblown plot of land. I had a sense of the mystery at the heart of things as JB Priestley would have said; the mystery of time, of landscape, of people living and dead. Happily we have A KIND OF LOVING on DVD, both the TV series and the Alan Bates movie. Why don't they release the two series of Stan's short stories, which he himself dramatised? We see the author himself, standing on a bridge over a village stream. Also needing to be released is a TV version of JOBY; the novella which Yorkshire playwright David Mercer called 'bluidy marvellous'. So was Stan.

  2. My I add a coda to my commentary of yesterday? Stan Barstow told me his fiction sold well in what was then called the Federal Republic of Germany [Bundesrepublik Deutschland]. On a visit to the BRD he met his translator. There are writers who have the distinction of being both acclaimed and invisible. I'm told there is a word for it, 'Geheimtip': having a merit known only to a few. It was used about the novelist Gert Hoffmann and it was true of Stan Barstow. Alan Massie, distinguished reviewer of The Scotsman, saw the overlooked merits of JUST YOU WAIT AND SEE, the first novel in a trilogy. A number of reviewers were patronising; they sneered at what they called 'oop North' with its outside privets, colliers and pub taprooms. Arrogance when combined with ignorance is very ugly indeed. The obituaries of Stan Barstow [including the one in The New York Times] all recognized that someone important had passed away. A kind of writer we will not see again. [John Haggerty, Glasgow, Scotland.]

  3. In my comment, October 22, I made a reference to Gwyn Thomas, when I really meant to say Gwyn Jones. Gwyn Thomas was, of course, a distinguished scholar and translator of Nordic literature as well as a novelist of some reputation. Gwyn Jones, a controversial figure in Wales in his own lifetime, is now remembered for such engrossing works of fiction as ALL THINGS BETRAY THEE and THE DARK PHILOSOPHERS, both republished by the Libray of Wales. I hope both Mr Thomas and Mr Jones win a wide readership from the new generation. This is still a country where visionary writers are appreciated, I hope.