The late '50s and early '60s saw the arrival of kitchen sink drama in England — gritty Northern industrial landscapes shot in moody black and white, which tied with the Nouvelle Vague in France and Italy's new wave too, those successful films, from plays and books, like Jack Clayton's ROOM AT THE TOP, Reisz's SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING, Tony Richardson's LOOK BACK IN ANGER. A TASTE OF HONEY too was a sensational play, both in London and Broadway (where Angela Lansbury played the feckless mother). The original play was written by 18-year-old Shelagh Delaney in 1958, as a riposte to the theate of the time, those plays by Terence Rattigan as she had seen some and thought she could do better, so A TASTE OF HONEY was like a breath of fresh air, and remains a much loved film.
The 1961 film was X-rated. Set in Salford, the tale of Jo(sephine), a lonely, neglected teenager, tackled teenage pregnancy, mixed-race relationships and feckless parenting (by Dora Bryan and her dodgy boyfriend Robert Stephens). The most sympathetic character is Jo’s gay friend, Geoff, at a time when homosexuality was criminal. Murray Melvin had worked his way up from tea boy at Joan Littlewood’s famous Theatre Workshop Company at London’s Stratford East Theatre to play the role of Geoff on stage, reprising it in the film. Similarly, Tushingham had joined the Liverpool Rep as a backstage odd job girl after writing many pestering letters.
Tushingham also starred in some cult favourites of mine like the Swinging London parody, SMASHING TIME, with her pal Lynn Redgrave (from THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES), Richard Lester's THE KNACK and others and is still working as is Murray Melvin, who probably played the first smpathetic gay character most of us saw at the cinema. It is always a pleasure to see him in films like THE BOYFRIEND or BARRY LYNDON, below: he and Rita recently.
Tushingham (who has a great website covering her extensive career) says of the early ‘60s: ‘It was a welcoming time. There was an energy. We need to do more to encourage young people to discover what’s inside them. The consumerism is not the point… 50 years on we still have the same emotions as we did then, but we are being sold more.’
Dirk Bogarde's VICTIM was also a key movie that year of course, I particularly like A TASTE OF HONEY with its lyrical moments among the working class background of Salford - a vanished landscape now. Dora Bryan is marvellous as the mother with her constant moolight flits (leaving lodgings without paying rent) and who returns to look after Jo in her pregnancy because she has nowhere else to go, thus forcing out Geoff, the sad little gay boy who does not fit in. It is extremely touching. Richardson directs with a sure hand with that marvellous black and white photography by Walter Lassally, it is a perfect Woodfall film. John Schlesinger then provided two more Northern classics in A KIND OF LOVING in 1962 and BILLY LIAR in 1963 which really ushers in the new Swinging London era with Julie Christie heading off to London leaving dreamer Billy behind at the railway station .... I really want to re-see those again now too. Two Edna O'Brien adaptations by Desmond Davis continued the trend: Woodfall's THE GIRL WITH GREEN EYES, Tushingham with Peter Finch, in 1964 and I WAS HAPPY HERE with Sarah Miles in 1966, by which time Swinging London was all the rage.
Shelagh Delaney continued to write but never equalled her early success. She also scripted THE WHITE BUS for Lindsay Anderson, CHARLIE BUBBLES for Albert Finney among others.