Sunday 19 February 2017

Stan Barstow

Writer drew on his family background to create vivid portraits of the northern English working class

Published 07/08/2011 | 05:00

STAN Barstow, who died on August 1 aged 83, was a miner's son who achieved fame as a writer in the Sixties, when his first novel, A Kind of Loving, was turned into a film starring Alan Bates.

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Although he never achieved the public profile of his fellow Yorkshire-born writers John Braine and Keith Waterhouse, Barstow's vivid portraits of northern working-class life contributed to the rise of the regional literary novel in the late Fifties and early Sixties.

A Kind of Loving (1960), written in his free time while Barstow was working as an engineering draughtsman, tells the story of Vic Brown (played by Bates in the film), a young man trapped by convention and circumstance in a "life-sentence" marriage to a woman he does not love (June Ritchie) and unable to escape from a mother-in-law from hell (Thora Hird). Directed by John Schlesinger, the screen version has come to be regarded as one of the seminal films of the Sixties, and Barstow's novel became a set text in British schools.

Barstow claimed that the novel depicted "the kind of working-class life that I knew from my own experience'' -- a claustrophobic environment in which everyone knew everyone else's business, and respectability was prized above all other virtues. "At least you know where you are when you elect for the company of Mr Barstow's sentimentalised Tykes," one critic observed. "There's usually Trooble at t' Mill, the privy sits proudly at the end of the garden, and life revolves around the family."

Another reason for the success of the book was Barstow's frankness about working-class attitudes to sex. The key moment in the book -- and the most controversial episode in the film -- is when Vic goes into a chemist to buy condoms but is too embarrassed to ask and emerges with a bottle of Lucozade. The inevitable happens: his girlfriend gets pregnant, they have to get married and live with her mother, and things rapidly go downhill.

Barstow's initial success turned him into a full-time writer. A Kind of Loving was the first of a trilogy, published over the course of 16 years (with The Watchers on the Shore (1966) and The Right True End (1976)), that followed Vic Brown through marriage, divorce and his eventual escape from the mining town of Cressley to Swinging London.

His subsequent novels, including Ask Me Tomorrow (1962), Joby (1964) and A Raging Calm (1968), never had the same impact. But he made notable contributions in other areas, with radio and stage adaptations, and as the scriptwriter on South Riding (1974), the acclaimed television drama based on Winifred Holtby's story of Yorkshire life in the Thirties.

Stan Barstow was born on June 28, 1928, at Horbury, near Wakefield, Yorkshire. A bright boy, he won a place at Ossett Grammar School, but left at 16 to join a local engineering firm, working in the drawing office. But the work bored him, and he spent every spare moment in the fiction section of the public library.

He began writing in the Fifties, and had some short stories broadcast by the BBC. His first published work was a short story, The Search for Tommy Flynn (1957). An unpublished novel in 1956 was followed by A Kind of Loving in 1960.

Most of Barstow's narratives were set in the industrial north.

His other works included A Season with Eros (1977), A Brother's Tale (1981) and a trilogy of novels set in the Forties: Just You Wait and See (1986), Give Us This Day (1989) and Next of Kin (1991). His autobiography, In My Own Good Time, was published in 2001.

In 1951 Stan Barstow married Constance Kershaw, with whom he had a son and daughter. The marriage was later dissolved. He is survived by his children and by his partner, Diana Griffiths, who has adapted several of his novels for radio.

Sunday Independent

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