Alan Sillitoe documentaries

The following four films discuss Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 novel about a Raleigh worker from Radford. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is deeply embedded in Nottingham history and culture and stands as testament to a working class world now long gone. The film adaptation was broadcast in 1960, directed by Karel Reisz and stared Albert Finney. BFI have acknowledged it as the 14th greatest British film of all time, despite Finney’s Manc accent…

When I was asked to do a bit of filming about Sillitoe I thought it was going to be a quick Vox Pop to be collated with other commentary to be used in workshops. But it turned out to be a 10 minute documentary. I mention this because these things live on for ever and I should have been a bit better prepared, particularly given the emotional and eloquent testimonies from Henry and David. The interview was done on my lunch break in between teaching, so it was always going to be a bit raw. This is just what happens when you’re juggling lots of things at once. TV and radio both require chunks of well focused observations. You need to pick out a relevant quote or a point and then unpack it a bit. But any sane human can’t bear to hear or see themselves in such things, so if you’re currently doing similar, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just don’t watch it…

The following information is taken directly from the City Arts website:

David Sillitoe on his father

This film features interviews with Alan’s son, David, who talks about his father’s work, upbringing and inspirations. He explains his father’s distaste for being described as an ”angry young man” and discusses what it was like for him to grow up as the son of a famous writer.

Me on Alan Sillitoe

Writer, academic and former LeftLion literature editor James Walker discusses the cultural context of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. James speaks about life in 1950s and 60s Nottingham and explains the themes that the novel touches on – the relationships, social life and working life of our city’s communities.

Henry Normal on Alan Sillitoe

Henry Normal is a writer, poet, TV and film producer, and patron of City Arts. He tells us how Sillitoe’s work influenced his own writing on acclaimed TV programmes including The Mrs Merton Show and The Royle Family. Henry also speaks passionately about how Nottingham, his home town, inspires his work, the same way it did Alan’s.

Raleigh workers on working at Raleigh

This film features appearances from former Raleigh workers, some of whom knew Sillitoe personally. They speak about what it was like to work at the factory around the same time the novel was set, explain how important the business was to the local community and compare Nottingham back then to Nottingham today.

These films were directed and produced by Tim Chesney on behalf of City Arts. We have been using them as inspiration in writing workshops for Nottingham residents aged 55+, part of our Words of Wisdom project. The films acted as a launch pad for people to tell their own stories, both real and imagined, drawing on their personal lives and exploring similar themes to the novel.

City Arts is working with Nottingham UNESCO City of LiteratureNottingham City Libraries and Nottingham City Homes on Words of Wisdom. The project is funded by Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation’s ‘Celebrating Age’ fund. You can see some of the poems produced for the project here.

Photo credit: Mark Gerson

Used with permission

Event three: Raleigh

Raleigh is the third stop on our Sillitoe Trail project for The Space and I’m delighted with how it’s turned out. I commissioned Pete Davis to talk to five former Raleigh workers so that we could build up an oral history of life working for the cycle manufacturer who celebrated their 125th anniversary this year. The rationale behind this was twofold: Firstly, oral histories gives our project greater diversity of content and so enable Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to be understood through a new prism and secondly, the testimonies enable us to compare the fictional portrayal of Arthur Seaton’s workplace with that of actual workers. Given that every member of Alan Sillitoe’s family worked at Raleigh I wouldn’t expect any inaccuracies.

Pete Davis is a local storyteller who has done this kind of work countless times and so was perfect for the role. A former fireman who himself worked at Raleigh (where he met his wife Sue) and a keen cyclist (his Raleigh bike has his name on it) he relished the role and was a consummate professional. When Pete records testimonies he writes them up and then sends copies off to the interviewees to sign off. The only real concern I had here was that some testimonies named specific people (sleazy bosses, workmates who drank on the job and various accounts of nepotism involving foreman). I removed these names to avoid being sued and because I didn’t want anything to be perceived as a personal attack. Pulling all of this content together was a short film from the British Council called How a Bicycle is Made which I was made aware of thanks to Andy Barrett, one of my mentors.

Getting the testimonies in early was a massive help as it quickly became apparent that there were some recurring themes– such as the slow eroding away of the Sturmey-Archer site and how disappointed workers were to be laid off or see parts imported. To balance this out I got two additional testimonies from management. Ann Hodkinson was a former team manager who I found particularly fascinating as in addition to being a lesbian (imagine controlling all of those men) she couldn’t read or write. This showed that all promotions weren’t down to nepotism as well as bringing in a female voice. The other was with Managing Director John MacNaughtan, who was able to give context to why parts were shipped in from abroad and how the manufacturing industry had to adapt to various changes in the global economy. If there’s one thing you quickly learn working with the BBC it’s trying to strike a balance and this is definitely one area in which my writing has improved.

Other articles included an introduction to Raleigh which was an excuse to celebrate factory workers up and down the country, the last day at the Sturmey-Archer site by Mark Patterson and a comparison of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning with Ben Hamper’s Rivethead, who worked on the production line for G.M. Motors.

My only disappointment is that all of the testimonies have been collated into one file which is far too text heavy. This dilutes the individual voices and I suspect may be a deterrent to your more casual visitor. Including more images would be one way of offsetting the text but unfortunately any images embedded in the text are far too small as it is, which is a pity given Paul Fillingham’s beautiful designs. But these things aside, I think we’ve done an excellent job in accurately representing factory life. Judge for yourself on The Space