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

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is an award-winning play that details D.H. Lawrence’s brief spell in Cornwall and Australia. It has particular resonance for David Faulkner as he played Lawrence in the original play at the beginning of his career and has now directed it in his retirement. 

D.H. Lawrence lived in Cornwall from 30 December 1915 to 15 October 1917 in what he hoped would be a new life away from the industrial Midlands of his birth. It didn’t quite work out as he planned. He was accused of being a spy, his passport was removed, and he was booted out of Cornwall under the Defence of the Realm Act. His short tenure on the edge of Britain would have a profound effect on his ideas, not least his developing fascination with cosmic vibrations and the mysterious secrets of primitive cultures emanating from the dark black granite Zennor coastline.

Lawrence courted controversy throughout his short life, which is what I love most about him. He married a German woman called Frieda Weekley, a distant relation of the ‘Red Baron’, 15 days before the outbreak of WWI. The Rainbow, published the following year, lasted two months in print before being seized under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Prosecutor Herbert Musket declared it ‘a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action’ for daring to question fundamentals of everyday life, such as work, marriage and religion. Judge Sir John Dickinson ruled that the book ‘had no right to exist in the wind of war’, and that Lawrence was in effect mocking the very principles British men were fighting to defend. With no sense of irony, copies of The Rainbow were publicly burned, while ‘our’ boys fought for freedom on the Western Front.

Lawrence would live a restless life, travelling the globe and staying no longer than two years in any one place. His experiences of living in Cornwall and Australia would serve as the backdrop to David Allen’s play Upside Down at the Bottom of the World. Originally performed in 1980, it scooped the Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Play. More recently, the play has been revived by David Faulkner and was performed at Lane Theatre, Newquay in March. It’s hoped the play may make its way back to Nottinghamshire at some point.

Frieda once said that what she loved most about Lawrence was his saying ‘yes’ to life, known as ‘Bejahung’ in German. The same could be said of David Faulkner. “One day, while on the London tube, I happened to see an advert in Time Out which read, ‘English Speaking Actors wanted for the Cafe Theatre Frankfurt’. Rather than send my CV, photograph and covering letter, I bought a £17.50 Magic Bus Ticket, packed an overnight bag and the next thing I knew I was in Frankfurt looking for The Cafe Theatre. Probably due to bare faced cheek rather than my chosen audition pieces I was offered the job. Eighteen months later I was still working at the Cafe theatre as both an actor and director, doing three monthly rep.”

It was here that he first encountered Davis Allen’s play, offering to play the part of Lawrence after the original cast member had to withdraw. “I had just ten days to learn the lines and replicate the role in preparation for a continued three-month tour of Holland and Germany. I remember so little of that production but often returned to the script with the thought that one day I would revive it.”

Now he has found himself directing the play that helped kickstart his career. Although remaining true to the original script, David has introduced some interesting extra details, such as Lawrence knitting bloomers. “Frieda liked wearing French knickers yet Lawrence preferred her to wear bloomers, which he often made for her. Therefore, at the beginning of the play we see Lawrence sewing a pair of bloomers which Frieda puts on in front of him. We see this sexual game playing is indeed a significant part of their relationship.”

David is now retired and living in Cornwall and runs a small touring company as well as guest directing for several local community groups. So why did he decided to put the play on now? “Sometimes a play comes along that has particular relevance at a certain time. Upside Down at the Bottom of the World is one of those plays. The political turmoil of the Diggers, the right/left struggle, the influence of the Unions in conflict with the capitalists is almost a mirror to what we are experiencing here and now.”

Brexit has certainly delivered plenty of turmoil as of late, so would Lawrence have voted ‘leave’ or ‘remain’? “Now that’s a hard one. Married to a German, he may have voted Remain. Then again having no truck with a capitalist world order, and being the son of a miner, perhaps, Leave. Now that would make a great play, haha.”

Upside Down at the Bottom of the World was performed at Lane Theatre, Newquay, Cornwall, TR8 4PX from 14-16 March and 21 – 23 March 2019. This blog was originally published on the UNESCO City of Literature website. I’m currently working with Paul Fillingham on the D.H. Lawrence Memory Theatre. You can learn more about this digital pilgrimage by following  the project blog or Instagram account.