Alan Sillitoe image

Alan Sillitoe

The working class culture is celebrated by Heart of the Midlands author Alan Sillitoe

Alan Sillitoe

Alan Sillitoe rose from abject poverty to become one of our best novelists and Nottingham's most famous contemporary author. Born 4th March 1928 in Nottingham, Alan grew up in Radford. Sillitoe’s father could not read or write and was not in regular employment. Therefore, Alan and his family experienced extreme poverty.


Inspired by his own experiences of being working class in Nottingham

Alan Sillitoe left school at 14 to work in various factories until becoming an air traffic control assistant with the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He moved on in 1946 to be an RAF wireless operator with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He hoped to be a pilot, but none were required by then. He completed his national service as a radio operator and returned to Nottingham. When he became ill with tuberculosis, he read a lot of literature and began to write. His characters and stories were inspired by his own experiences of being working class in Nottingham.


His first novel was rejected

Sillitoe was inspired to become a novelist but the novel he wrote in hospital was rejected. When he was well he moved back to Nottingham with a disability pension. In 1952, in a bookshop in town, he met the aspiring American poet Ruth Fainlight. Curious as it sounds for an author who was a lead writer in what has become known as "provincial realism", Sillitoe and Fainlight spent the next six years living off his disability pension in France, Spain and Majorca. In Majorca, Sillitoe fell under the influence of the poet Robert Graves, who encouraged him to turn short stories the Nottingham author had been working on into a novel.


David Sillitoe on Alan Sillitoe

Alan’s son, David, 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.

“Whatever people say I am, that is what I am not” Alan Sillitoe

Sillitoe's first publication, in 1957, was a collection of poetry, Without Beer or Bread. He followed it a year later with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.


Alan Sillitoe's classic novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

The story of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is deeply embedded in Nottingham. Growing up in poverty and working with his father at the local Raleigh Bicycle factory, Alan Sillitoe knew first hand just what it was like. The story reflects the people and places Sillitoe knew. Arthur Seaton, the books’ rebellious protagonist, works at Raleigh, lives in Radford and drinks at the White Horse Inn.

It won the Author's Club First Novel Award and Sillitoe scripted the film, that was released in 1960 to equal critical acclaim. (The stage version, first performed in 1964, was less successful.) By the time the film of Sillitoe's debut novel came out, his short story collection, led by "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", had come out and won the Hawthornden Prize.

The book, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, is hugely influential as a depiction of postwar working-class life. Alan adapted the story for Karel Reisz’ 1960s film starring Albert Finney, which the BFI later named the 14th greatest British film of all time.


James Walker on writer Alan Sillitoe

Writer and academic 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.


Former Raleigh Bicycle Factory workers on Alan Sillitoe

This film features appearances from former Raleigh workers, some of whom knew Alan 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.


Alan Sillitoe, writer: born Nottingham 4 March 1928; married 1959 Ruth Fanlight (one son, one daughter); died London 25 April 2010.

In his long life, Alan Sillitoe wrote over 50 books – novels, short story collections, travel works, poetry collections, plays and screenplays – but he remained best known for his first two works: the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) and the short story collection that had as its title story "The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner" (1959).

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