Shelagh Delaney

I am currently writing Tastes of Honey, a biographical study of the playwright Shelagh Delaney (1938-2010) that uses her life and work as a lens through which to explore her pioneering generation. They were the first women to believe they could have it all – sexual and social freedom, fulfilling work and motherhood – and they fought hard to win and pass on their new achievements to future generations.

This isn’t a ‘straight’ biography, but rather a way into discussing this generation that gets away from the usual media focus on a small number of middle-class metropolitan women involved in consciousness raising groups in the seventies (important though those were). Those groups didn’t spring from nowhere – the women in them had often been fighting for sexual and social freedom for years beforehand – and there were many other, non-activist women, who nevertheless struggled to achieve change. Shelagh Delaney was one of them. Her work, which ranged from her play A Taste of Honey (1958), written while she was still a teenager, through to some beautiful BBC Radio 4 plays broadcast in the 2000s, foregrounded women’s voices and aspirations. She was one of a group of women writers who demanded new control over their bodies and their lives in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a decade before the Women’s Liberation Movement took to the streets – yet we know little about them.  Her life – as a successful writer from a working-class background, and a lone mother who had a long career – embodies the changes that her generation struggled to achieve, often at great personal cost.

If you saw, read or studied Shelagh Delaney’s work and would like to talk to me about this project, email me at selina.todd@history.ox.ac.uk.

I’m delighted that I am working with Charlotte Delaney – a terrific playwright herself – to  ensure this project engages with a wide range of women and reflects on feminism in the present as well as in the past. We hope to work with MaD Theatre Company and the Guinness Housing Partnership to create a new drama group in Salford that will perform some of Shelagh’s work – and we’ve just heard that Guinness plans to name one of their tower blocks after Shelagh Delaney. Watch this space!