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John Boynton Priestley, OM (13 September 1894 14 August 1984) — known as J.B. Priestley — was an Englishmarker novelist, playwright and broadcaster. He published more than 100 novels, notably The Good Companions (1929), as well as numerous dramas. His output included literary and social criticism.

Early years

Priestley was born at 34 Mannheim Road, Heatonmarker, which he described as an "ultra-respectable" suburb of Bradfordmarker. His father was a headteacher; his mother died young; his father remarried 4 years later. On leaving grammar school, Priestley worked in the wool trade of his native city, but had ambitions to become a writer. He was to draw on memories of Bradford in many of the works he wrote after he had moved south. As an old man he deplored the destruction by developers of Victorian buildings such as the Swan Arcademarker in Bradford where he had his first job.

Priestley served during the First World War in the 10th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. He was wounded in 1916 by mortar fire. In his autobiography, Margin Released he is fiercely critical of the British army and in particular of the officer class.

After his military service Priestley received a university education at Trinity Hall, Cambridgemarker. By the age of 30 he had established a reputation as a humorous writer and critic. His novel Benighted (1927) was adapted into the James Whale film The Old Dark House (1932); the novel has been published under the film's name in the United States.

Career

Priestley's first major success came with a 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. However, some critics were less than complimentary about his work, and Priestley began legal action against Graham Greene for what he took to be a defamatory portrait of him in the novel Stamboul Train (1932).

He wrote the travelogue English Journey in 1934, which is an account of what he saw and heard while travelling through the country in the autumn of the previous year.

He moved into a new genre and became as well known as a dramatist. Dangerous Corner began a run of plays that enthralled West End theatremarker audiences. His best-known play is An Inspector Calls (1946), later made into a film starring Alastair Sim released in 1954. 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).

Many of his works have a socialist aspect. For example, An Inspector Calls, as well as being a "Time Play", contains many references to socialism — the inspector was arguably an alter ego through which Priestley could express his views.

During World War II, he 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. But his talks were cancelled. It was thought that this was the effect of complaints from Churchill that they were too left-wing; however, Priestley's son has recently revealed in a talk on the latest book being published about his father's life that it was in fact Churchill's Cabinet that brought about the cancellation by supplying negative reports on the broadcasts to Churchill.

Priestley chaired the 1941 Committee and, in 1942, he was a co-founder of the socialist Common Wealth Party. The political content of his broadcasts and his hopes of a new and different England after the war influenced the politics of the period and helped the Labour Party gain its landslide victory in the 1945 general election. Priestley himself, however, was distrustful of the state and dogma.

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. Priestley managed the treatment of this potentially esoteric subject matter with warmth and competence.

Although Priestley never wrote a formal book of memoirs, his literary reminiscences, Margin Released, 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.

A special collector's edition of Bright Day was re-issued by Great Northern Books in 2006, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the publication of this novel.

Plays

His play The Thirty-first of June was first produced in Torontomarker in 1957.

  • Thirty-first of June: A Tale of True Love, Enterprise and Progress in the Arthurian and AD-Atomic Ages, inspector calls
- December 1961 : Hardback; ISBN 0-434-60326-0 / 978-0-434-60326-8 (UK edition); Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd
- BBC radio dramatization; one and a half hours
- 1996 : Paperback; ISBN 0-7493-2281-0 / 978-0-7493-2281-6 (UK edition); Publisher: Mandarin
- 31 iyunya (1978) (TV) Russian film; aka 31 июня; aka 31st of June


Personal life

Priestley was one of the interviewees for the documentary series The World at War (1973), in the episode "Alone: May 1940–May 1941".

He was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. He declined lesser honours before accepting the Order of Merit in 1977.

He had a deep love of classical music, and 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.

Priestley's name was on Orwell's list, a list of people which George Orwell prepared in March 1949 for the Information Research Department, a propaganda unit set up at the Foreign Office by the Labour government. Orwell considered these people to have pro-communist leanings and therefore to be inappropriate to write for the IRD.

Priestley had three marriages. In 1921 he married Pat Tempest, and in 1922 two daughters were born. In September 1926, he married Jane Wyndham-Lewis (ex-wife of the original 'Beachcomber' Bevan Wyndham-Lewis, no relation to the artist); together, they produced two daughters and one son. In 1953, he divorced his second wife and married Jacquetta Hawkes, his collaborator on Dragon's Mouth. The University of Bradfordmarker renamed their campus library to J.B. Priestley after his death in recognition of his work. .

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