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Priestley, J B

Category: Writer

 

John Boynton "J. B." Priestley, OM (13 September 1894 – 14 August 1984), was an English novelist, playwright, scriptwriter, social commentator, and broadcaster.  He was a man of the people, not interested in honours or rank, whose interest in life was basically people and their welfare. 

Priestley declined the chance to become a lord in 1965 and also declined appointment as a Companion of Honour in 1969. But he did become a member of the Order of Merit in 1977. He also served as a British delegate to UNESCO conferences.

The University of Bradford awarded Priestley the title of honorary Doctor of Letters in 1970, and he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bradford in 1973. His connections with the city were also marked by the naming of the J. B. Priestley Library at the University of Bradford, which he officially opened in 1975, and by the statue of him, commissioned by the Bradford City Council after his death, and which now stands in front of the National Media Museum.

The humanitarian beliefs of J B Priestley

Priestley- by Howard Coster, 1926

Despite being described as ‘left wing’, Priestley was simply a humanitarian.  He wove his love for his fellow beings into his work and his life.  He lived his beliefs.  His humanitarian views, for example, helped influence the birth of the Welfare State. 

During the Second World War, Priestley was a regular broadcaster on the BBC. The Postscript, broadcast on Sunday night through 1940 and again in 1941, drew peak audiences of 16 million; only Churchill was more popular with listeners.

Grahame Greene wrote that Priestley "became in the months after Dunkirk a leader second only in importance to Mr. Churchill ".  The talks certainly helped strengthen civilian morale during the Battle of Britain.  My Mum remembered them well, whilst Churchill was the inspiration to fight for liberty and our culture and values, Priestley provided a form of common touch, a comforting voice, a feeling that there was hope.

 

Priestley chaired the 1941 Committee, and in 1942 he was a co-founder of the socialist Common Wealth Party.

Priestley himself, however, was distrustful of the state and dogma. He was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. 

And whatever you call his politics, he had no love of dictators of whatever persuasion – left or right.  In 1940, Priestley wrote an essay for Horizon magazine, where he criticised George Bernard Shaw for his support of Stalin:

 "Shaw presumes that his friend Stalin has everything under control. Well, Stalin may have made special arrangements to see that Shaw comes to no harm, but the rest of us in Western Europe do not feel quite so sure of our fate, especially those of us who do not share Shaw's curious admiration for dictators".

Spiritual beliefs

It appears that J B Priestley could lucid dream.  He also appears to have had experiences of perfect Perception recall, and there are indications he may also have gone out of body.

Perceptions are like a log of our activities, dissimilar to memory, which is a structured database we derive via learning from perceptions.  Perceptions, in contrast, are like a film of our lives with added sensations of taste, touch and smell, and the emotions we felt, in fact everything we have experienced.

It is through perceptions that we get our concept of time, and J B Priestley as a consequence had a fascination for time.

Many of his plays are structured around a time slip, and he went on to develop a new theory of time, with different dimensions that link past, present, and future.

His interest in the problem of time led him to publish an extended essay in 1964 under the title of Man and Time (Aldus published this as a companion to Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols). In this book he explored in depth various theories and beliefs about time as well as his own research and unique conclusions, including an analysis of the phenomenon of precognitive dreaming, based in part on a broad sampling of experiences gathered from the British public, who responded enthusiastically to a televised appeal he made while being interviewed in 1963 on the BBC programme, Monitor.

Works

His Yorkshire background is reflected in much of his fiction, notably in Priestley's first major success - the novel, The Good Companions (1929), which earned him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and made him a national figure. His next novel, Angel Pavement (1930), further established him as a successful novelist.  In 1934 he published the travelogue English Journey, an account of what he saw and heard while travelling through the country in the depths of the Depression.

Dangerous Corner (1932) was the first of many plays that would enthrall West End theatre audiences. His best-known play is An Inspector Calls (1945). His plays are more varied in tone than the novels, several being influenced by J. W. Dunne's theory of time, which plays a part in the plots of Dangerous Corner (1932) and Time and the Conways (1937).

 

In 1960, Priestley published Literature and Western Man, a 500-page survey of Western literature in all its genres, including Russia and the United States but excluding Asia, from the second half of the 15th century to the present.

Although Priestley never wrote a formal book of memoirs, his literary reminiscences, Margin Released (1962), provide valuable insights into his work. The section dealing with his job as a teenage clerk in a Bradford wool-sorter's office “manages to weave fine literature from an outwardly unpromising subject – a characteristic of many of his novels”.

Priestley had a deep love for classical music especially chamber music. This love is reflected in a number of Priestley's works, notably his own favourite novel Bright Day (Heinemann, 1946). His book Trumpets Over the Sea is subtitled "a rambling and egotistical account of the London Symphony Orchestra's engagement at Daytona Beach, Florida, in July–August 1967".

In 1941 he played an important part in organising and supporting a fund-raising campaign on behalf of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which was struggling to establish itself as a self-governing body after the withdrawal of Sir Thomas Beecham. In 1949 the opera The Olympians by Arthur Bliss, to a libretto by Priestley, was premiered.

Life

 

Priestley was born at 34 Mannheim Road, Manningham, which he described as an "extremely respectable" suburb of Bradford. His father was a headmaster. His mother died when he was just two years old and his father remarried four years later. Priestley was educated at Belle Vue Grammar School, which he left at sixteen to work as a junior clerk at Helm & Co., a wool firm in the Swan Arcade. During his years at Helm & Co. (1910–1914), he started writing at night and had articles published in local and London newspapers. He was to draw on memories of Bradford in many of the works he wrote after he had moved south, including Bright Day and When We Are Married. As an old man he deplored the destruction by developers of Victorian buildings in Bradford such as the Swan Arcade, as did many – including Alan Bennett.

Priestley served in the army during the First World War, volunteering to join the 10th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment on 7 September 1914, and being posted to France as a Lance-Corporal on 26 August 1915. He was badly wounded in June 1916, when he was buried alive by a trench-mortar. He spent many months in military hospitals and convalescent establishments, and on 26 January 1918 was commissioned as an officer in the Devonshire Regiment, and posted back to France late summer 1918. As he describes in his literary reminiscences, Margin Released, he suffered from the effects of poison gas, and then supervised German prisoners of war, before being demobilized in early 1919.

with Jacquetta Hawkes, his third wife

After his military service, Priestley received a university education at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. By the age of 30 he had established a reputation as an essayist and critic.

Priestley married three times. In 1921 he married Emily "Pat" Tempest, a music-loving Bradford librarian. Two daughters were born, one in 1923 and one in 1924, but in 1925 his wife died of cancer.

In September 1926, he married Jane Wyndham-Lewis (ex-wife of the original 'Beachcomber' D. B. Wyndham-Lewis, no relation to the artist Wyndham Lewis); they had two daughters (including music therapist Mary Priestley) and one son.

In 1953, he divorced his second wife and married the archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes, his collaborator on the play Dragon's Mouth.  She was undoubtedly a fellow spirit and we have her biography on the site.

He died on 14 August 1984.

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