On Saturday Afternoon Alan Sillitoe Essay

On By In 1
Alan Sillitoe

Sillitoe in May 2009

Born(1928-03-04)4 March 1928
Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England
Died25 April 2010(2010-04-25) (aged 82)
London, England
SpouseRuth Fainlight

Alan Sillitoe (4 March 1928 – 25 April 2010)[1][2] was an English writer and one of the so-called "angry young men" of the 1950s.[3][4][5] He disliked the label, as did most of the other writers to whom it was applied. He is best known for his debut novelSaturday Night and Sunday Morning and early short story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, both of which were adapted into films.


Sillitoe was born in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, to working class parents Christopher Sillitoe and Sabina (née Burton). Like Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of his first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, his father worked at the Raleigh Bicycle Company factory.[2] His father was illiterate, violent,[6] and unsteady with his jobs, and the family was often on the brink of starvation.[2]

Sillitoe left school at the age of 14, having failed at the entrance examination to grammar school.[4] He worked at the Raleigh factory for the next four years, spending his free time reading prodigiously and being a "serial lover of local girls".[6] He then joined the Air Training Corps in 1942[7] then the Royal Air Force, albeit too late to serve in the Second World War. He served as a wireless operator in Malaya during the Emergency.[2] After returning to Britain, he was planning to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force,[7] but was discovered to have tuberculosis and spent 16 months in an RAF hospital.[2]

Pensioned off at the age of 21 on 45 shillings (£2.25) a week, he lived in France and Spain for seven years in an attempt to recover. In 1955, while living in Mallorca with the American poet Ruth Fainlight, whom he married in 1959,[8] and in contact with the poet Robert Graves, Sillitoe started work on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was published in 1958. Influenced in part by the stripped-down prose of Ernest Hemingway, the book conveys the attitudes and situation of a young factory worker faced with the inevitable end of his youthful philandering. As with John Osborne's Look Back in Anger and John Braine's Room at the Top, the novel's real subject was the disillusionment of post-war Britain and the lack of opportunities for the working class. It was adapted as a film by Karel Reisz in 1960, with Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton; the screenplay was written by Sillitoe.[5]

Sillitoe's story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, which concerns the rebellion of a borstal boy with a talent for running, won the Hawthornden Prize in 1959.[2] It was also adapted into a film, in 1962, directed by Tony Richardson and starring Tom Courtenay. Sillitoe wrote the screenplay.

With Fainlight he had a child, David. They later adopted another, Susan. Sillitoe lived at various times in Kent, London and Montpellier.[2] In London he was friendly with the bookseller Bernard Stone (who had been born in Nottingham a few years before Sillitoe), and became one of the bohemian crowd that congregated at Stone's Turret Bookshop on Kensington Church Walk.[9]

In the 1960s Sillitoe was celebrated in the Soviet Union as a spokesman for the "oppressed worker" in the West. Invited to tour the country, he visited several times in the 1960s and in 1968 he was asked to address the Congress of Soviet Writers' Unions, where he denounced Soviet human rights abuses, many of which he himself had witnessed.[2]

In 1990 Sillitoe was awarded an honorary degree from Nottingham Trent University. The city's older Russell Group university, the University of Nottingham, also awarded him an honorary D.Litt in 1994. In 2006 his best-known play was staged at the university's Lakeside Arts theatre in an in-house production.

Sillitoe wrote many novels and several volumes of poems. His autobiography, Life Without Armour, which was critically acclaimed on publication in 1995, offers a view of his squalid childhood. In an interview Sillitoe claimed, "A writer, if he manages to earn a living at what he's doing, even if it's a very poor living, acquires some of the attributes of the old-fashioned gentleman (if I can be so silly)."[10]

Gadfly in Russia, an account of his travels in Russia spanning 40 years, was published in 2007.[11] In 2008 London Books republished A Start in Life in its London Classics series and to mark the author's 80th birthday. Sillitoe appeared on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 on 25 January 2009.

Sillitoe's long-held desire for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to be remade for a contemporary filmgoing audience was never achieved, despite strong efforts. Danny Brocklehurst was set to adapt the book and Sillitoe gave his blessing to the project, but Tony Richardson's estate and Woodfall Films prevented it from going ahead.[12]

Sillitoe was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997.[13]


Sillitoe died of cancer on 25 April 2010 at Charing Cross Hospital in London. He was 82.[2][11] He is buried in Highgate Cemetery.



  • Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, London: Allen, 1958; New York: Knopf, 1959. New edition (1968) has an introduction by Sillitoe, commentary and notes by David Craig. Longman edition (1976) has a sequence of Nottingham photographs, and stills from the film, Harlow.
  • The General, London: Allen, 1960; New York: Knopf, 1961
  • Key to the Door, London: Allen, 1961; New York: Knopf, 1962; reprinted, with a new preface by Sillitoe, London: Allen, 1978
  • The Death of William Posters, London: Allen, 1965; New York: Knopf, 1965
  • A Tree on Fire, London: Macmillan, 1967; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968
  • A Start in Life, London: Allen, 1970; New York: Scribners, 1971
  • Travels in Nihilon, London: Allen, 1971; New York: Scribners, 1972
  • The Flame of Life, London: Allen, 1974
  • The Widower's Son, Allen, 1976; New York: Harper & Row, 1977
  • The Storyteller, London: Allen, 1979; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.
  • Her Victory, London: Granada, 1982; New York: Watts, 1982
  • The Lost Flying Boat, London: Granada, 1983; Boston: Little, Brown, 1983
  • Down from the Hill, London: Granada, 1984
  • Life Goes On, London: Granada, 1985
  • Out of the Whirlpool. London: Hutchinson, 1987
  • The Open Door, London: Grafton/Collins, 1989
  • Last Loves, London: Grafton, 1990; Boston: Chivers, 1991
  • Leonard's War: A Love Story. London: HarperCollins, 1991
  • Snowstop, London: HarperCollins, 1993
  • The Broken Chariot, London: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1998
  • The German Numbers Woman, London: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 1999
  • Birthday, London: Flamingo/HarperCollins, 2001
  • A Man of His Time, Flamingo (UK), 2004, ISBN 0-00-717327-X; Harper Perennial (US), 2005. ISBN 0-00-717328-8; ISBN 978-0-00-717328-0

Collections of Short Stories[edit]

  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, London: Allen, 1959; New York: Knopf, 1960
  • The Ragman’s Daughter and Other Stories, London: Allen, 1963; New York: Knopf, 1964
  • Guzman, Go Home, and Other Stories, London: Macmillan, 1968; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969; reprinted, with a new preface by Sillitoe, London; Allen, 1979
  • Men, Women and Children, London: Allen, 1973; New York: Scribners, 1974
  • Down to the Bone, Exeter: Wheaton, 1976
  • The Second Chance and Other Stories, London: Cape, 1981; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981
  • The Far Side of the Street: Fifteen Short Stories, London: Allen, 1988
  • Alligator Playground: A Collection of Short Stories, Flamingo, 1997, ISBN 0-00-655073-8
  • New and Collected Stories, Carroll and Graf, 2005. ISBN 0-7867-1476-X


  • Every Day of the Week: An Alan Sillitoe Reader, with an introduction by John Sawkins London: Allen, 1987
  • Collected Stories, London: Flamingo, 1995; New York: HarperCollins, 1996

Writing for Children[edit]

  • The City Adventures of Marmalade Jim, London: Macmillan, 1967; Toronto: Macmillan, 1967; revised ed., London: Robson, 1977
  • Big John and the Stars, London: Robson, 1977
  • The Incredible Fencing Fleas, London: Robson, 1978. Illus. Mike Wilks.
  • Marmalade Jim at the Farm, London: Robson, 1980
  • Marmalade Jim and the Fox, London: Robson, 1984


  • Road to Volgograd, London: Allen, 1964; New York: Knopf, 1964
  • Raw Material, London: Allen, 1972; New York: Scribners, 1973; rev. ed., London: Pan Books, 1974; further revised, London: Star Books, 1978; further revised, London: Allen, 1979
  • Mountains and Caverns: Selected Essays, London: Allen, 1975
  • Words Broadsheet Nineteen, by Sillitoe and Ruth Fainlight. Bramley, Surrey: Words Press, 1975. Broadside
  • “The Interview”, London: The 35s (Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry), 1976
  • Israel: Poems on a Hebrew Theme, with drawings by Ralph Steadman; London: Steam Press, 1981 98 copies.
  • The Saxon Shore Way: From Gravesend to Rye, by Sillitoe and Fay Godwin. London: Hutchinson, 1983
  • Alan Sillitoe’s Nottinghamshire, with photographs by David Sillitoe. London: Grafton, 1987
  • Shylock the Writer, London: Turret Bookshop, 1991
  • The Mentality of the Picaresque Hero, London: Turret Bookshop, 1993, Turret Papers, no. 2. (500 copies)
  • Leading the Blind: A Century of Guidebook Travel. 1815-1914, London: Macmillan, 1995
  • Gadfly in Russia, JR Books, 2007


  • Three Plays, London: Allen, 1978 Contains The Slot-Machine, The Interview, Pit Strike


Collections of Poems[edit]

  • Without Beer or Bread, Dulwich Village: Outposts, 1957
  • The Rats and Other Poems, London: Allen, 1960
  • Falling Out of Love and Other Poems, London; Allen, 1964; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964
  • Shaman and Other Poems", Turret, 1968 (Limited ed. of 500 copies, 100 copies signed and numbered)
  • Love in the Environs of Voronezh and Other Poems, London: Macmillan, 1968; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969.
  • Poems, by Sillitoe, Ruth Fainlight and Ted Hughes; London: Rainbow Press, 1971. (300 copies)
  • From Canto Two of The Rats, Wittersham, Kent: Alan Sillitoe, 1973
  • Barbarians and Other Poems, London: Turret Books, 1973. 500 copies
  • Storm: New Poems, London: Allen, 1974
  • Somme, London: Steam Press, 1974. In Steam Press Portfolio, no. 2. 50 copies
  • Day-Dream Communiqué, Knotting, Bedfordshire: Sceptre Press, 1977. 150 copies
  • From Snow on the North Side of Lucifer, Knotting, Bedfordshire: Sceptre Press, 1979. (150 copies)
  • Snow on the North Side of Lucifer: Poems, London: Allen, 1979
  • Poems for Shakespeare 7, Bear Gardens Museum and Arts Centre, 1979 (Limited to 500 numbered copies)
  • More Lucifer, Knotting, Bedfordshire: Martin Booth, 1980. 125 copies
  • Sun Before Departure: Poems, 1974–1982, London: Granada, 1984
  • Tides and Stone Walls: Poems, with photographs by Victor Bowley; London: Grafton, 1986
  • Three Poems, Child Okefurd, Dorset: Words Press, 1988. 200 copies
  • Collected Poems, London: HarperCollins, 1993

Film Scripts[edit]


  • Chopin's Winter in Majorca 1838–1839, by Luis Ripoll, translated by Sillitoe. Palma de Majorca: Mossen Alcover, 1955
  • Chopin’s Pianos: The Pleyel in Majorca, by Luis Ripoll, translated by Sillitoe. Palma de Majorca: Mossen Alcover, 1958
  • All Citizens Are Soldiers (Fuente Ovejuna): A Play in Two Acts, by Lope de Vega translated by Sillitoe and Ruth Fainlight. London: Macmillan, 1969; Chester Springs, PA: Dufour, 1969
  • Poems for Shakespeare, volume 7, edited and translated by Sillitoe and Ruth Fainlight. London: Bear Gardens Museum & Arts Centre, 1980


  1. ^Obituary The Times, 26 April 2010.
  2. ^ abcdefghiRichard Bradford (25 April 2010). "Alan Sillitoe obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  3. ^Bruce Weber (26 April 2010). "Alan Sillitoe, 'Angry' British Author, Dies at 82". New York Times. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  4. ^ ab"Alan Sillitoe, Obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 26 April 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  5. ^ abMartin Weil (27 April 2010). "Alan Sillitoe, 82, dies; chronicled restless British youth". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  6. ^ ab"Alan Sillitoe". The Economist. 29 April 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  7. ^ abhttps://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/may/20/academicexperts.highereducationprofile
  8. ^"Sillitoe-Fainlight". Archived from the original on 11 December 2011. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  9. ^[1]
  10. ^Wood, Ramsay,"Alan Sillitoe: The Image Shedding the Author", Four Quarters, La Salle College, Philadelphia, 1971 Robert Twigger blog entry, 6 August 2011
  11. ^ ab"Author Alan Sillitoe dies in London". BBC News. 25 April 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  12. ^Tom Vallance (20 March 2009). "Natasha Richardson: Member of celebrated acting family who found success on stage and screen". The Independent. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  13. ^"Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Gerard, David E., and H. W. Wilson. Alan Sillitoe: A Bibliography, Mansell, 1986 (UK) ISBN 0-7201-1829-8; Meckler, 1988 (US) ISBN 0-88736-104-8.
  • Penner, Allen R. Alan Sillitoe, Twayne, 1972.
  • Vaverka, Ronald Dee. Commitment as Art: A Marxist Critique of a Selection of Alan Sillitoe's Political Fiction. (1978 Dissertation, Uppsala Univ.)
  • Atherton, Stanley S. Alan Sillitoe: A Critical Assessment, W. H. Allen, 1979. ISBN 0-491-02496-7
  • Craig, David. The Roots of Sillitoe's Fiction. In The British Working-Class Novel in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jeremy Hawthorn, Edward Arnold, 1984. ISBN 0-7131-6415-8
  • Hitchcock, Peter. Working-Class Fiction in Theory and Practice: A Reading of Alan Sillitoe, UMI Research Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8357-1976-6
  • Hanson, Gillian Mary. Understanding Alan Sillitoe, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1999. ISBN 1-57003-219-X
  • Sawkins, John. The Long Apprenticeship: Alienation in the Early Work of Alan Sillitoe, Peter Lang, 2001. ISBN 3-906764-50-8
  • Bradford, Richard. The Life of a Long-distance Writer: The Biography of Alan Sillitoe, Peter Owen, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7206-1317-9

External links[edit]

‘The art of writing is to explain complications of the human soul with a simplicity that can be universally understood’, Alan Sillitoe claimed.

Ever since the landmark publication of his novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1958 (still in print more than forty years later), this was precisely, and prolifically, what he dd. He was regarded as Britain’s leading ‘provincial realist’, using his home city of Nottingham as his stage set. ‘I have no difficulty in understanding people from the kind of life I knew in Nottingham, who came into my mind with their stories’, he wrote when introducing The Far Side of the Street (1998). Yet his writing career began while living abroad in France and Spain on a RAF disability pension during the early 1950s, and his expatriation was significant in the ways he was able to continually fictionalise his tough early experiences – the old industrial working class life of factories, back street housing and surrounding villages, local words and speech patterns, and above all its characters. For those seeking the full background to Sillitoe’s life and development, Life Without Armour (1995) is an uncompromising autobiography. It ends around 1960, with his commercial success as a writer sealed by the filming by the late Karel Reisz of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1959), their rebellious anti-heroes memorably portrayed by Albert Finney and Tom Courtney respectively.

Sillitoe was a contemporary of a so-called ‘Angry Young Men’ generation of writers (though he had more in common with playwright John Osbourne or even Keith Waterhouse than Kingsley Amis) who came to prominence in the late 1950s. He turned out to be the most durable of them all and certainly the most prolific: in addition to his many novels and short stories, he wote film scripts, a play, and a book on Nottinghamshire (with photographs by son David). Sillitoe’s fine Collected Poems (1993) draws upon his eight published volumes and indicates that poetry is an essential if under-appreciated part of his writing. His wife was the poet Ruth Fainlight, and he enjoyed productive friendships with both Robert Graves and Ted Hughes. The influence of his Nottingham antecedent D. H. Lawrence in poems such as ‘Lizard’, and the harshness of ‘The Rats’, eventually gave way to philosophical concerns: ‘By afternoon life’s all we’ve got, / no more over the horizon…/ Me at the desk creating lives: / No strength to break my own’ (‘Work’).

Sillitoe’s real distinction however lay in prose fiction, as a truly masterful storyteller. He used a deceptively simple vernacular style to get inside the feelings of his often combative or alienated characters, giving them a voice. He brought to light what has been called his ‘rare sense of the mysterious inwardness of people’. This quality is evident throughout his several volumes of stories, culminating in a Collected Stories (1995), whose contents give him claims to be one of Britain’s greatest ever short story writers. It opens with his most famous, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ (from 1959), still an extraordinarily evocative monologue by a truly ‘angry young man’, a Borstal boy who finds mental freedom only during his daily cross-country run. He tells of the theft that led to his incarceration, and ‘the outlaw death’ that his father died; then he deliberately loses a prestigious cross-country race to spite the values of the authorities. Many of Sillitoe’s other best stories also focus upon criminality, such as the pair of doomed teenage lovers in ‘The Ragman’s Daughter’, or the First World War soldier in ‘The Sniper’ escaping from the murder of his wife’s ‘fancy man’. ‘When Snow Comes’ and ‘Scenes from the life of Margaret’ are bleakly powerful in their depictions of isolation and disappointment. Domestic violence and the emotional claustrophobia of working class life are continual themes – leading to many of his characters attempting to escape into new lives and wider horizons.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning fitted the late 1950s zeitgeist of youthful rebellion with its anti-hero, the womanising Arthur Seaton, and though many of its social details are now dated, it has achieved an archetypal quality and the status of a modern classic. Sillitoe went on to write other novels about the Seaton family, focussing on Brian who becomes a successful television writer. Birthday (2001) revisits old territory, as Brian returns to Nottingham in the present day to visit his brother Arthur, now caring for a terminally ill wife. Brian takes the opportunity to catch up with his old girlfriends Brenda and Jenny, seeing the places where they courted decades earlier, and grimly noting the changes in everyone. The book has elements of nostalgia and reminiscence, but casts a sober eye on the effects of age and morality and celebrates the relationship between the surviving brothers, that ‘being alive was victory enough’.

Among Sillitoe’s other novels, Her Victory (1982) stands out for its familiar tale of a character escaping from an oppressive background into self-liberation – but is seen from the female perspective. Pam is a forty-year-old woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who believes that ‘life…was the discipline of having to abide by the choices you made… (but) you surely had the right to make another’. She leaves her factory-owning husband, fleeing from Nottingham to London, only to be tracked down to her shabby bed-sit by his violent feckless brothers. After a suicide attempt, she becomes involved with her rescuer, Tom, a man on ‘the bleaker side of middle age’ who is himself discovering his own Jewish heritage. Following their holiday together on the continent, a car accident and new baby, Pam finds that ‘even love was something to be endured’. As the book ends she has to decide whether to join Tom in Israel – or to remain with the woman she has also formed a relationship with.

The German Numbers Woman (1999) is a low-key thriller. Howard is a blind ex-RAF wireless operator and short wave radio ham who becomes involved in the international drug trafficking trade. His curiosity, and partly dormant sexuality, becomes aroused by the messages he overhears on the airwaves between young Judy and her lesbian lover. Howard’s long-suffering wife has an affair with drug smuggler Richard, who unwittingly invites him to join the yacht on ‘a big run’ from the Azores. Threatened by psychopathic villain ‘Waistcoat’ when on board, Howard has to spin plausible yarns to stay alive – as a kind of stand-in for the storytelling author. Meanwhile, the arrival of Judy on board starts to return him to his youthful wartime self. Howard’s stubbornness, fatalism (and womanising) makes him a typical Sillitoe protagonist, as the voyage leads to an exciting climax.

Dr Jules Smith, 2003


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