When I wrote A State of Play. British Politics on the Screen, Stage and Page, From Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It I didn’t deliberately seek out fictions with a Manchester or Salford connection.
But when I started to see if I could construct a talk for the Post Box in what even the Guardian refers to as the 'Guardian-reading heaven' that is Chorlton on April 24th (the details of which are here) I found that a large number of fictions I talk about were set in the cities or written by or starred those who had lived in them.
This is a reflection of the importance of Manchester and Salford to Britain’s political culture, for as Disraeli put it: "Rightly understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit as Athens.”
I don't want to spoil any surprises but as a taster for the talk, I thought I'd run through a few of the topics I'll be covering.
I have to start with Disraeli's Sybil (1845) a novel he wrote after visiting Manchester and in which he outlined his idea for how the Two Nations could be reunited.
Disraeli was a Conservative, of course. A Hind Let Loose (1904) was written by C.E. Montague who was in effect editor of the strongly Liberal Manchester Guardian in the years before the First World War. It's a satire on the relationship between the press and politics - a theme explored by many writers of political fiction, possibly because so many of them have been journalists.
Howard Spring was another Manchester Guardian employee who turned to novels. His Fame is the Spur (1940) is a lightly fictionalised version of the career of Ramsay MacDonald, who 'betrayed' the Labour party by forming a coalition government in 1931 in the midst of an economic crisis.
Hamer Shawcross, Spring's anti-hero, builds a career in the labour movement, and in his early speeches uses a sword taken from the Peterloo massacre to underline his radical rhetoric. But Shawcross (like MacDonald, it was believed) was only interested in his own position, not in helping those who voted him into office. Later turned into a movie, Spring's novel pulled few punches.
Miles Platting-born, ex-miner Jim Allen was also very sceptical of those Labour figures who claimed to lead the working class. As a Trostkyist he believed that working class revolutionary potential was constantly being dampened down by trade union bureaucrats and Labour leaders who had sold out to the Establishment.
In a series of television plays written in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s (such as The Spongers) he made that point - much to the annoyance of Margaret Thatcher who even referred to one of his works in a speech she made to the Conservative party conference.
Allen started his writing career by working on Coronation Street but hated the experience, claiming that: “With one or two exceptions, the actors were all working-class Tories acting like thirty bob millionaires”. The Street covered politics in its own way, and many of its characters have
stood for Weatherfied Council, some becoming councillors and even Mayor. But all as 'independents', of which there are very few in Salford or Manchester.
If I go on any more there'll be little point you turning up for the talk, but suffice to say I get to mention lots of other works, including two novels written by 'Red' Ellen Wilkinson, the Manchester-born Labour MP, in the 1920s and 1930s. I even get to talk about these delightful creatures, in the picture below, as well as the guy with the big ears with his back to camera.
See you on Thursday?!
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