John Boynton Priestley, OM (/ˈpriːstli/; 13 September 1894 – 14 August 1984), known by his pen name J.B. Priestley, was an English novelist, playwright, scriptwriter, social commentator and broadcaster.
His Yorkshire background is reflected in much of his fiction, notably in The Good Companions (1929), which first brought him to wide public notice. Many of his plays are structured around a time slip, and he went on to develop a new theory of time, with different dimensions that link past, present, and future.
In 1940, he broadcast a series of short propaganda radio shows that were credited with strengthening civilian morale during the Battle of Britain. His left-wing beliefs brought him into conflict with the government, and influenced the birth of the welfare state. The programme was eventually cancelled by the BBC for being too critical of the government.
He is perhaps best known for his popular 1945 play An Inspector Calls.
J. B. Priestley
J. B. Priestley
|Born||John Boynton Priestley|
13 September 1894
Manningham, Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
|Died||14 August 1984 (aged 89)|
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
Priestley was born at 34 Mannheim Road, Manningham, which he described as an "extremely respectable" suburb of Bradford. His father was a headmaster. His mother died when he was just two years old and his father remarried four years later. Priestley was educated at Belle Vue Grammar School, which he left at sixteen to work as a junior clerk at Helm & Co., a wool firm in the Swan Arcade. During his years at Helm & Co. (1910–1914), he started writing at night and had articles published in local and London newspapers. He was to draw on memories of Bradford in many of the works he wrote after he had moved south, including Bright Day and When We Are Married. As an old man he deplored the destruction by developers of Victorian buildings in Bradford such as the Swan Arcade, where he had his first job.
Priestley served in the British army during the First World War, volunteering to join the 10th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment on 7 September 1914, and being posted to France as a Lance-Corporal on 26 August 1915. He was badly wounded in June 1916, when he was buried alive by a trench-mortar. He spent many months in military hospitals and convalescent establishments, and on 26 January 1918 was commissioned as an officer in the Devonshire Regiment, and posted back to France late summer 1918. As he describes in his literary reminiscences, Margin Released, he suffered from the effects of poison gas, and then supervised German prisoners of war, before being demobilised in early 1919.
After his military service, Priestley received a university education at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. By the age of 30 he had established a reputation as an essayist and critic. His novel Benighted (1927) was adapted into the James Whale film The Old Dark House (1932); the novel has been published under the film's name in the United States.
Priestley's first major success came with a novel, The Good Companions (1929), which earned him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and made him a national figure. His next novel, Angel Pavement (1930), further established him as a successful novelist. However, some critics were less than complimentary about his work, and Priestley threatened legal action against Graham Greene for what he took to be a defamatory portrait of him in the novel Stamboul Train (1932).
Priestley is today seen as having, as was not uncommon at the time, a prejudice against the Irish, as is shown in his work, English Journey: "A great many speeches have been made and books written on the subject of what England has done to Ireland... I should be interested to hear a speech and read a book or two on the subject of what Ireland has done to England... if we do have an Irish Republic as our neighbour, and it is found possible to return her exiled citizens, what a grand clearance there will be in all the western ports, from the Clyde to Cardiff, what a fine exit of ignorance and dirt and drunkenness and disease." 
He moved into a new genre and became equally well known as a dramatist. Dangerous Corner (1932) was the first of many plays that would enthrall West End theatre audiences. His best-known play is An Inspector Calls (1945). His plays are more varied in tone than the novels, several being influenced by J. W. Dunne's theory of time, which plays a part in the plots of Dangerous Corner (1932) and Time and the Conways".
In 1940, Priestley wrote an essay for Horizon magazine, where he criticised George Bernard Shaw for his support of Stalin: "Shaw presumes that his friend Stalin has everything under control. Well, Stalin may have made special arrangements to see that Shaw comes to no harm, but the rest of us in Western Europe do not feel quite so sure of our fate, especially those of us who do not share Shaw's curious admiration for dictators."
During the Second World War, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC. The Postscript, broadcast on Sunday night through 1940 and again in 1941, drew peak audiences of 16 million; only Churchill was more popular with listeners. Graham Greene wrote that Priestley "became in the months after Dunkirk a leader second only in importance to Mr. Churchill. And he gave us what our other leaders have always failed to give us – an ideology." But his talks were cancelled. It was thought that this was the effect of complaints from Churchill that they were too left-wing; however, in 2015 Priestley's son said in a talk on the latest book being published about his father's life that it was in fact Churchill's Cabinet that brought about the cancellation by supplying negative reports on the broadcasts to Churchill.
Priestley chaired the 1941 Committee, and in 1942 he was a co-founder of the socialist Common Wealth Party. The political content of his broadcasts and his hopes of a new and different Britain after the war influenced the politics of the period and helped the Labour Party gain its landslide victory in the 1945 general election. Priestley himself, however, was distrustful of the state and dogma, though he did stand for the Cambridge University constituency in 1945.
Priestley's name was on Orwell's list, a list of people which George Orwell prepared in March 1949 for the Information Research Department (IRD), a propaganda unit set up at the Foreign Office by the Labour government. Orwell considered or suspected these people to have pro-communist leanings and therefore to be unsuitable to write for the IRD.
He was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958.
In 1960, Priestley published Literature and Western Man, a 500-page survey of Western literature in all its genres, including Russia and the United States but excluding Asia, from the second half of the 15th century to the present (the last author discussed is Thomas Wolfe).
His interest in the problem of time led him to publish an extended essay in 1964 under the title of Man and Time (Aldus published this as a companion to Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols). In this book he explored in depth various theories and beliefs about time as well as his own research and unique conclusions, including an analysis of the phenomenon of precognitive dreaming, based in part on a broad sampling of experiences gathered from the British public, who responded enthusiastically to a televised appeal he made while being interviewed in 1963 on the BBC programme, Monitor.
The University of Bradford awarded Priestley the title of honorary Doctor of Letters in 1970, and he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bradford in 1973. His connections with the city were also marked by the naming of the J. B. Priestley Library at the University of Bradford, which he officially opened in 1975, and by the larger-than-life statue of him, commissioned by the Bradford City Council after his death, and which now stands in front of the National Media Museum.
Priestley had a deep love for classical music especially chamber music. This love is reflected in a number of Priestley's works, notably his own favourite novel Bright Day (Heinemann, 1946). His book Trumpets Over the Sea is subtitled "a rambling and egotistical account of the London Symphony Orchestra's engagement at Daytona Beach, Florida, in July–August 1967".
In 1941 he played an important part in organising and supporting a fund-raising campaign on behalf of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which was struggling to establish itself as a self-governing body after the withdrawal of Sir Thomas Beecham. In 1949 the opera The Olympians by Arthur Bliss, to a libretto by Priestley, was premiered.
Priestley snubbed the chance to become a Life Peer in 1965 and also declined appointment as a Companion of Honour in 1969. But he did become a member of the Order of Merit in 1977. He also served as a British delegate to UNESCO conferences.
Priestley was married three times. Priestley also had a number of affairs, including a serious relationship with the actress Peggy Ashcroft. Writing in 1972, Priestley described himself as 'lusty' and as one who has 'enjoyed the physical relations with the sexes … without the feelings of guilt which seems to disturb some of my distinguished colleagues'.
In 1921 Priestley married Emily "Pat" Tempest, a music-loving Bradford librarian. Two daughters were born, Barbara (later known as the architect Barbara Wykeham) in 1923 and Sylvia (a designer known as Sylvia Goaman following her marriage to Michael Goaman) in 1924, but in 1925 his wife died of cancer.
In September 1926, Priestley married Jane Wyndham-Lewis (ex-wife of the original 'Beachcomber' D. B. Wyndham-Lewis, no relation to the artist Wyndham Lewis); they had two daughters (including music therapist Mary Priestley, who was conceived while Wyndham-Lewis was still married to D. B. Wyndham-Lewis) and one son. During the Second World War, Jane ran several residential nurseries for evacuated mothers and their children, many of whom had come from poor districts.
In 1953, Priestley divorced his second wife then married the archaeologist and also writer Jacquetta Hawkes, with whom he collaborated on the play Dragon's Mouth. The couple lived at Alveston, Warwickshire, near Stratford-upon-Avon later in his life.
Priestley died of pneumonia on 14 August 1984, surrounded by his family.
Priestley began placing his papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin in 1960, with additions being made throughout his lifetime. The Center has continued to add to the collection through gifts and purchases when possible. The collection currently amounts to roughly 23 boxes, and includes original manuscripts for many of his works and an extensive series of correspondence.
| Chairman of the Common Wealth Party
An Inspector Calls is a play written by English dramatist J. B. Priestley, first performed in September 1945 in the Soviet Union and in 1946 in the UK. It is one of Priestley's best known works for the stage and is considered to be one of the classics of mid-20th century English theatre. The play's success and reputation have been boosted by a successful revival by English director Stephen Daldry for the National Theatre in 1992 and a tour of the UK in 2011–2012.
The play is a three-act drama which takes place on a single night in April 1912, focusing on the prosperous upper middle-class Birling family, who live in a comfortable home in the fictional town of Brumley, "an industrial city in the north Midlands". The family is visited by a man calling himself Inspector Goole, who questions the family about the suicide of a young working-class woman, Eva Smith (also known as Daisy Renton). Long considered part of the repertory of classic drawing room theatre, the play has also been hailed as a scathing criticism of the hypocrisies of Victorian and Edwardian English society and as an expression of Priestley's socialist political principles. The play is studied in many schools in the UK as one of the prescribed texts for the English Literature GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education).An Inspector Calls (1954 film)
An Inspector Calls is a British 1954 film directed by Guy Hamilton and written for the screen by Desmond Davis. It is based upon the play An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley. It stars Alastair Sim.Dangerous Corner
Dangerous Corner was the first play by the English writer J. B. Priestley. It was premiered in May 1932 by Tyrone Guthrie at the Lyric Theatre, London, and filmed in 1934 by Phil Rosen.
Priestley had recently collaborated with Edward Knoblock on the dramatisation of The Good Companions and now wished "to prove that a man might produce long novels and yet be able to write effectively, using the strictest economy, for the stage." While it was praised highly by James Agate, Dangerous Corner received extremely poor reviews and after three days he was told that the play would be taken off, a fate that he averted by buying out the syndicate. It then ran for six months. Priestley's action was further vindicated by the worldwide success the play was to enjoy, although he soon lowered his estimate of this work and as early as 1938 remarked "It is pretty thin stuff when all is said and done."Eden End
Eden End is a play by J. B. Priestley, first produced by Irene Hentschel at the Duchess Theatre, London, on 13 September 1934.English Journey
English Journey is an account by J. B. Priestley of his travels in England which was published in 1934.
Commissioned by publisher Victor Gollancz to write a study of contemporary England, Priestley recounts his travels around England in 1933. He shares his observations on the social problems he witnesses, and appeals for democratic socialist change. English Journey was an influential work, inspiring George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier, and "has even been credited with winning the 1945 election for the Labour Party".In the work, Priestley also expresses racism towards Irish immigrants in England: "A great many speeches have been made and books written on the subject of what England has done to Ireland... I should be interested to hear a speech and read a book or two on the subject of what Ireland has done to England... if we do have an Irish Republic as our neighbour, and it is found possible to return her exiled citizens, what a grand clearance there will be in all the western ports, from the Clyde to Cardiff, what a fine exit of ignorance and dirt and drunkenness and disease."In a 1983 book of the same title, Beryl Bainbridge retraces Priestley's steps to capture the changes that half a century has brought to their shared native land.Jamaica Inn (film)
Jamaica Inn is a 1939 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock adapted from Daphne du Maurier's 1936 novel of the same name, the first of three of du Maurier's works that Hitchcock adapted (the others were her novel Rebecca and short story "The Birds"). It stars Charles Laughton and features Maureen O'Hara in her first major screen role. It is the last film Hitchcock made in the United Kingdom before he moved to the United States.
The film is a period piece set in Cornwall in 1819; the real Jamaica Inn still exists, and is a pub on the edge of Bodmin Moor. The score was written by Eric Fenby.Johnson Over Jordan
Johnson Over Jordan is a play by J.B. Priestley.
Johnson Over Jordan focuses on Robert Johnson, a meek businessman who has recently died. Now in limbo, Johnson looks back over his life while trying to reach the Inn at the End of World. On the way, he encounters the Central Offices of Universal Assurance and Global Loan and Finance Corporation and the Jungle Hot Spot nightclub.
Johnson Over Jordan was originally produced in 1939 with Ralph Richardson as Robert Johnson. was accompanied by an original score by Benjamin Britten. It was revived in a 2001 production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse with Patrick Stewart in the title role.In 1976, The joint Dramatic Society of King Edward's School, Birmingham and King Edward VI High School for Girls gave five performances of the play for the Schools' annual Senior Production. It was directed by Michael Birks. Johnson was played by Richard Horwood.
In February 2014 Bradford Grammar School was another amateur group to have performed the play, with Daniel Sanderson taking the title role of Robert Johnson. Tom Priestley, the son of J.B. Priestley, came to see the performance and commented: "Brilliant, absolutely magnificent to see such talent and my dad would have been proud."
December 2017, NLCS Jeju has also performed the play, for three days, from 5th to 7th, directed by Yeongwoo Lee, Linus Kim, Hyun Hoi Koo, Skylar Shen, Jaehong Lim, and Judy Song, and the main leads who played Johnson are Judy Song, Jeyoon Eom and Skylar Shen.Laburnum Grove
Laburnum Grove is a 1936 British comedy film directed by Carol Reed and starring Edmund Gwenn, Cedric Hardwicke and Victoria Hopper. It was based on the 1933 play of the same name written by J. B. Priestley.Last Holiday (1950 film)
Last Holiday is a 1950 British film featuring Alec Guinness in his sixth starring role. The low-key, dark comedy was written and co-produced by J. B. Priestley and directed by Henry Cass, featuring irony and wit often associated with Priestley. Shooting locations included Bedfordshire and Devon.Let the People Sing (novel)
Let the People Sing is a 1939 comedy novel by the British writer J. B. Priestley. It examines civic politics and corruption in the small English town of Dunbury, where the music hall is due to be closed. It was adapted into a 1942 film Let the People Sing.Sing As We Go
Sing As We Go is a 1934 British musical film starring Gracie Fields, John Loder and Stanley Holloway. The script was written by Gordon Wellesley and J. B. Priestley.
Considered by many to be British music hall star Gracie Fields' finest vehicle, this film was written for her by leading novelist J.B. Priestley. In this morale-boosting depression movie, set in the industrial north of England, Fields stars as a resourceful, determined working class heroine, laid off from her job in a clothing mill, who has to seek work in the seaside resort of Blackpool. This gives her the opportunity both to fall into many misadventures and, of course, to sing.
The decision to film on location brings the film a life and immediacy all too absent from most films of the period. The film provides us with a snapshot of life in a seaside resort in the 1930s. The final scene of the millworkers returning to the re-opened mill while Fields leads them in the rousing title song has become an almost iconic film cliché.The Good Companions
The Good Companions is a novel by the English author J. B. Priestley.
Written in 1929, it follows the fortunes of a concert party on a tour of England. It is Priestley's most famous novel, and it established him as a national figure. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was adapted twice into film.The Good Companions (1933 film)
The Good Companions is a 1933 British comedy film directed by Victor Saville starring Jessie Matthews and John Gielgud. It was based on the novel of the same name by J.B. Priestley.The Good Companions (1957 film)
The Good Companions is a 1957 British musical film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Eric Portman. It is based on the novel of the same name and is a remake of the 1933 film version.The Linden Tree
The Linden Tree is a 1947 play by the English dramatist J.B. Priestley. It was first produced at the Duchess Theatre, London on 15 August 1947, and ran for 422 performances.They Came to a City
They Came to a City is a 1944 British film directed by Basil Dearden adapted from a J. B. Priestley play. It stars John Clements, Googie Withers, Raymond Huntley, Renee Gadd, A. E. Matthews and others, and is notable for including a cameo guest appearance by Priestley as himself. The plot concerns the experiences of various people who have come to live in their "ideal" city, and explores their hopes and reasons for doing so. Many of the cast had also performed their roles in the original stage play. The film's art direction was by Michael Relph.Time and the Conways
Time and the Conways is a British play written by J. B. Priestley in 1937 illustrating J. W. Dunne's Theory of Time through the experience of a moneyed Yorkshire family, the Conways, over a period of nineteen years from 1919 to 1937. Widely regarded as one of the best of Priestley's Time Plays, a series of pieces for theatre which played with different concepts of Time (the others including I Have Been Here Before, Dangerous Corner and An Inspector Calls), it continues to be revived in the UK regularly.When We Are Married
When We Are Married is a comedy by the English dramatist, J. B. Priestley. It was first performed in London at the St. Martin's Theatre, London on 11 October 1938, and transferred to the larger Prince's Theatre in March 1939 and ran until 24 June of that year.When We Are Married (film)
When We Are Married is a 1943 British comedy-drama film directed by Lance Comfort and starring Sydney Howard, Raymond Huntley and Olga Lindo.The film is a screen version of the 1938 stage play by J. B. Priestley, in which three Edwardian Yorkshire couples, who were all married on the same day 25 years earlier, gather to celebrate their joint silver wedding anniversary, only to be told that due to a legal technicality, their marriages were not valid and that for the past quarter-century they have all effectively been living in sin. Some react with horror at potential scandal, while others glimpse the possibility of freedom from a deadbeat spouse, or regret potential loves that got away after they were "married". Much drama ensues as the couples each re-evaluate their respective marriages, but after grievances have been aired and new understandings forged, all ends happily. The Monthly Film Bulletin, known for its exacting standards, complimented the film as "an exceedingly amusing, if somewhat unkind, picture of a Yorkshire chapel-going fraternity...under the skilful direction of Lance Comfort all the cast bring the characters to life".
Works by J. B. Priestley
|Short story collections|
|Film and TV adaptations|