Just a few days before her 72nd birthday Salford's Shelagh Delaney, one of the pioneers of modern British theatre, has died of cancer.
Tall and slightly ungainly, she cut an extraordinary figure. An eleven plus failure, she took the safe cosy and rigidly class conscious British Theatre scene by storm with her iconic work A Taste of Honey. It was an incredible work made all the more so when you remember she was only 18 when she wrote the play.
Delaney, with a confidence and nerve beyond her years and experience, used her observations of Salford's meaner streets and the people who inhabited them to portray characters that, for the very first time, gave the English working class a voice on the British stage.
Something we take for granted now, but absolutely groundbreaking and the height of rebellion 53 years ago.
A Taste of Honey's anti heroine unmarried expectant mother, Jo, followed John Osborne's original `kitchen sink' play, Look Back in Anger by two years. Despite Osborne's Jimmy Porter's two year advantage, Delaney's single mother was the true visceral voice of the down trodden working class.
Sheila Delaney, the daughter of a bus inspector, wrote A Taste of Honey her first ever play in two weeks after watching a Terence Ratigan drama at the Opera House where she worked as an usher. She was determined that she could do better and instead of trying to write on the same level and in the same style as Rattigan and co, she had the nous to use her slum ridden city (as it was then) and its citizens as the canvas and figures in her work.
She also managed to incorporate previously untouched subjects like homosexuality, interracial relationships and single motherhood in one single work before sending it to the Theatre Workshop at Stratford East in London.
It turned out to be a fortunate choice as the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, was run by Gerry Raffles and Joan Littlewood, both of whom had spent years presenting Agit prop in and around Salford's streets and factories. They above everybody else recognised the play as the authentic voice of modern north country English working class society.
Following its premiere at the Theatre Royal the play transferred to the West End and was then produced as a no less iconic film directed by Tony Richardson in 1961 with many Salford locations depicted in the film.
Another play, The Lion In Love, followed soon after but did not receive the same critical acclaim as her first work. In the mid sixties Delaney wrote the screenplays for two films, The White Bus, starring Arthur Lowe and Charlie Bubbles, starring Salford superstar actor Albert Finney and Liza Minnelli.
Salford's streets and cityscape form important components of the two movies.
Delaney recognised that Salford was a powerful element of her makeup, and listening to her interviewed in documentary films in the early sixties (one directed by a young Ken Russell no less) it is clear that she had a love hate relationship with the city.
It is apparent she loved her class and Salfordians but had less time for the state of the city back then which had a suppressing hold on many of its inhabitants' aspirations. She lamented that many Salfordians lived unfulfilled lives because they realised too late what it was that they were good at. She on the other hand felt that she had been lucky to discover writing as her passion and that it could provide a way out.
Delaney also scripted the film Dance With A Stranger, about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged, and she wrote many radio plays and short stories.
Salford writer, Tony Warren, creator of Coronation Street told the Salford Star last night: "I knew her a little in the early days but not terribly well. I saw the original production of 'A Taste of Honey' at Stratford East before I wrote Coronation Street.
"She was a massive talent" he added "It's hard to put her into a category but she was a very important writer of her generation."
Shelagh Delaney is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.
* See also, Nigel Pivaro's article from a couple of weeks ago - when the BBC stated that A Taste of Honey was set in Liverpool - click here
* See also Salford Councillor Urges Recognition for Shelagh Delaney - click here