Thursday 8 December 2016

Obituary: Barry Hines, author

Born: June 30, 1939 Died: March 18, 2016

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Tough upbringing: Yorkshire man Barry Hines
Tough upbringing: Yorkshire man Barry Hines
A scene from Kes, which was adapted from Barry Hines' novel, A Kestrel for a Knave

Barry Hines, who has died aged 76, was the author of A Kestrel for a Knave, the 1968 novel about a boy and his falcon which was adapted for the screen as Kes.

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Hines got the inspiration for his story from his own experiences of growing up in a mining community in Yorkshire. The book's protagonist, Billy Casper, is a troubled child living on a bleak estate in Barnsley whose spirit soars for the first time when he begins raising a kestrel.

The novel took its title from medieval laws governing the ownership of birds of prey - peregrines were for princes, while only kestrels were available to the lower orders. Class differences were often a feature of Hines's work. The idea for A Kestrel for a Knave came to him from watching a bird being raised by his younger brother Richard, whose recent memoir No Way But Gentlenesse (2015) also made clear how their paths diverged when Richard failed the 11-plus exam for entry into grammar school.

Other characters in the book were based on those Hines had known while teaching, notably those played by Colin Welland and Brian Glover in Ken Loach's film version in 1969. Now regarded as a classic, Kes was scripted (with Loach) by Hines, who turned down an offer for the rights from Walt Disney when the studio insisted on changing the ending so that the kestrel lived, instead of being killed in a fit of anger by Billy's brother.

Gritty realism also characterised Hines's other best known work, the controversial television drama Threads. Commissioned by the BBC in 1984, it depicted the outbreak of nuclear war and the aftermath of its effects on two families living in Sheffield. Much of its impact came from the then shocking realism of the injuries inflicted on victims, although in reality these were fashioned from ketchup and Rice Krispies. But it was made most effective by the ordinariness of the characters - created by Hines - with whom the viewing public identified.

The depiction of a nuclear winter brought home to many the reality of modern warfare. The programme climaxed with unforgettable horror when one of the few survivors, a 13-year-old girl, gives birth to a terribly deformed child.

The film was said to have been viewed by Ronald Reagan, as well as the British Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who wrote to Hines to congratulate him on his screenplay. Threads subsequently won the Bafta award as Best Single Drama, although such was the stir it had caused that it was almost 20 years before it was shown again by the BBC.

Melvin Barry Hines was born on June 30, 1939, and grew up at Hoyland Common, near Barnsley. The surrounding landscape was dominated by the pit heaps on which he spent his childhood playing, using sheets of tin to sledge down them. His father, Richard, had begun work as a pit-pony driver at 14 and bore a blue scar on his head where a gash had been impregnated by coal dust. Barry's grandfather was killed in a mining accident.

The family shared an outside lavatory with their neighbours, although Barry's intelligence seemed to promise a brighter future and he won a place at Ecclesfield Grammar School. He went on to play football for England Grammar Schools but eventually finished his education without any qualifications and took a job as an apprentice mining surveyor.

"Couldn't tha find a better job than this?" chided a neighbour when he saw him at the colliery. Ashamed that he had not fulfilled his potential, Hines returned to school and went on to train as a schoolmaster. He taught Physical Education at first in London and then, from 1962, for a decade at Longcar Central School, Barnsley. He began to write in the school library after his pupils had gone home, inspired by the work of other northern authors such as David Storey and Alan Sillitoe.

His first novel, The Blinder (1966), was something of a self-portrait, featuring a boy caught between the opportunities offered by academic excellence and a talent for football. After the success of Kes, he wrote another half dozen novels, including The Gamekeeper (1975) and Looks and Smiles (1981), about love on the dole. Both were also directed by Loach.

Hines also found a wider audience with his occasional work for radio and television; he earned a living in between these with a series of creative writing posts at universities. His dramatic output included Billy's Last Stand (1970), a radio play starring Arthur Lowe as an impoverished coalman, which was subsequently presented on stage at the Royal Court Theatre and then filmed for BBC television.

Born Kicking (1992) was another television drama about someone trying to make their way against the odds, this time Britain's first professional woman soccer player. Football appeared in many of Hines's stories, including Two Men from Derby (1976), a play based on his grandfather, who had wasted his own skill for the game.

Yorkshire and its way of life was also a recurring theme. While he remained angry about the manner in which the mining industry had been run down - a clip of Margaret Thatcher on television could render him apoplectic -he was not sentimental about what had been lost.

"Young families are better off now and the environment is cleaner and healthier," he observed. "That old tight community spirit has gone to some degree, but pit villages in South Yorkshire are still lovely friendly places to live in." What mattered to Hines was that he was able to give voice to his own people, even if changes in taste meant interest in the working man's experience diminished over the course of his career. "The main thing for me is to feel that I have represented them well," he said.

He once recalled taking the bus to Chapeltown the day after his drama The Price of Coal (1979), about life at a colliery, had been televised. "The bus was full of miners coming off shift. I walked down the aisle and they just looked and said nothing. I was scared to death until one man appointed himself spokesman and said: 'That were alreight, Barry'."

Hines, who in recent years lived close to his childhood home after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, published his final book, This Artistic Life, an anthology of his early writing, in 2009.

He is survived by his second wife Eleanor, whom he married in 2004, and by a son and a daughter of his first marriage.

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