Timothy West reads Priestley...
West on Priestley...via Bradford!
Sixty years on from its original publication, Ilkley Literature Festival marked the relaunch of Bradford writer J B Priestley's classic novel, Bright Day. We caught up with actor Timothy West - himself Bradford-born - to find out more...
It's a Sunday afternoon in Ilkley and the King's Hall is packed out with people who have come to hear celebrated actors Timothy West and Kenneth Cranham read from J B Priestley's Bright Day. Also on stage are J B Priestley's son Tom and Maud Marshall, Chief Executive of Bradford Centre Regeneration.
One of Priestley's most autobiographical works, Bright Day is set in Bruddersford. No prizes for guessing where this is! Written in 1946 it tells the story of a disillusioned Hollywood scriptwriter who returns to the Bruddersford/Bradford of his youth just before the outbreak of the First World War. Tom Priestley tells the audience: "A lot of it echoes my own father's experiences in his youth...It's about memory, about the way our past becomes our present and the future. It's also about the Yorkshire character."
Timothy West, like Priestley, born in Bradford - his parents were both performing at the city's Prince's Theatre at the time - so we thought it was only right to ask him what he thought about Bradford and one of its most famous writers.
He says it's always a joy to return to this part of the world: "I love the West Riding particularly and I've worked here a lot in an enormous variety of different ways but it's always nice to come back."
But what does he think of Bright Day? "I love it. It's very unusual and in some ways it's a very dangerous novel. In the the first four-fifths of the book you are introduced to a family who you get to know and be interested in, and be affectionate towards, but in the last part of the novel he's saying really you've got to forget all about these people because they are just ordinary really. You think, 'I've invested rather a lot in this family' and then you are told they are not much cop, but then you are given another treat at the end."
He thinks the novel paints a very accurate picture of Bradford as it was when Priestley was a young man: "Bradford is very thinly disguised, and the wool trade and the people who lived there, and the different attitudes to the wool business. The people who really loved the wool and loved the job as against the people who were in there just to make a quick buck and get out of it and do something else."
J B Priestley still looks down over 'Bruddersford'
Would modern Bradfordians be pleased by Priestley's portrait of the city? Timothy West thinks so: "He touches on a lot of things - the musical life of the place and the variety bills that went on, and the enormous combination of artists in the area. That's what you find is happening now in areas like Ilkley and Skipton and so on, not so much in the centre of Bradford. One important difference I'd think you'd notice is that then people of substance and imagination lived in the centre of Bradford. Now the tendency is for people to move out which is why Bradford is a vacuum in some ways."
Timothy West thinks Priestley is due for a revival: "He's mainly remembered for two or three plays. An Inspector Calls, of course, is on every school syllabus, or was until very recently, and When We Were Married, a wonderful play, is constantly being redone but perhaps his novels are less well known. Yes, I think his novels are due for revival."
As the audience leaving the King's Hall crowd around the Festival book stall to take a look at the new edition of Bright Day (which also includes a literary tour of 'Bruddersford') it looks as though, in Ilkley at least, there are quite a few people who agree!
last updated: 22/04/2008 at 15:34