A Spirit of Salford: Shelagh Delaney

Shelagh Delaney, author of A Taste of Honey, has been commemorated as a true spirit of Salford with the naming of 25 November as Shelagh Delaney day.

Julie Riley as Helen and Rebecca Ryan as Jo

Shelagh Delaney (25 November 1938 – 20 November 2011) was born in Salford and came from a typical working class background. One of the first working class women playwrights, Delaney believed in social protest and was not afraid to speak out on the need for a more realistic theatre, one that depicted the working class environment of many British citizens. Louise Woodward-Styles, who spearheaded the campaign for a Shelagh Delaney day, said: “I have always been an incredibly proud Salfordian. I have for a long time now been enamoured with the legacy and work of Shelagh Delaney. She was a pioneer for female writers, a visionary not only tackling social stereotypes surrounding the value of women in society, but also breaking down the barriers of prejudice and homophobia that was prevalent on stage and screen throughout the late 50s and 60s.”

Delaney’s most prolific work A Taste of Honey was written when she was just eighteen-years-old and first performed on 27 May 1958. The play subsequently enjoyed a run of 368 performances in the West End from January 1959 and success on Broadway The characters were praised for their honest, realistic voices and gave a new insight into working class lives. Delaney’s feisty female protagonist Jo, who has a homosexual friend and interracial relationship was very controversial at it’s time in the 50s but still resonates today infused with Northern soul.

This year on what would have been her 76th birthday Salford Council plans to celebrate the 25 November as Salford city’s official annual Shelagh Delaney Day in tribute to the post-war playwright. City Mayor Ian Stewart has given his official support to the campaign by local resident Louise Woodward-Styles after she suggested the idea as part of the Spirit of Salford campaign. The day will be marked with a host of performances, exhibitions and public talks from leading experts with events and competitions held to promote young talent in the city.

Mr Stewart said: “Shelagh’s pioneering work A Taste of Honey has become one of the classic plays of 20th century drama. It’s only right that her home city should officially celebrate and recognise Shelagh’s work in this way – she is one of Salford’s most famous daughters. Shelagh once said of her home city: ‘for a writer, a place like Salford is worth its weight in gold. I think it’s a fabulous place, and the language is alive. It’s virile. It lives and it breathes and you know exactly where it’s coming from, right out of the earth’. Her work captured and celebrated the spirit of Salford. I’m delighted new audiences will get a chance to see her work here at The Lowry and look forward to celebrating her contribution to British theatre and her home city.”

A true icon who shaped our Salfordian identity, Delaney proved that an 18 year old Salford girl could conquer the stage, even in the mainly middle-class, male-dominated British theatre of 1958.

See Shelagh’s modern classic starring another Salford spirit Rebecca Ryan in Hull Truck’s production of A Taste of Honey on until Saturday 14 June.