So what exactly is a kitchen sink drama? If you’ve read through the pages on my site that deal with my book ‘Floating In Space,’ you’ll know that this is a phrase I use to describe my book. When I first added Floating In Space to Amazon through the Amazon sister site Createspace I came to a point where I had to define the genre of the book. If you’ve written something that falls easily into a particular niche then that’s not a big deal. Things like romance, thrillers, science fiction, and YA (young adult) are pretty easily definable but my novel is something on the lines of working class fiction from the sixties; books like A Kind of Loving, A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alfie and Billy Liar. All of those works were made into films and three of them, Billy Liar, Alfie and A Taste of Honey were also stage plays but what exactly is ‘Kitchen sink drama’?
Wikipedia describes it as a British Cultural movement that developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and enveloped the theatre, art, literature, television and film. It identifies the John Osborne play ‘Look Back in Anger’ as being the start of the movement and afterwards, many people who identified with the movement were known as ‘Angry Young Men.’ Osborne’s play was a sort of backlash against the theatre of Noel Coward and Terrence Rattigan and represented a move away from polite drawing rooms into council house back rooms.
Richard Burton starred in ‘Look Back in Anger’ and as much as I love the richness of his voice, his portrayal of the leading character of Jimmy Porter hardly represents the working class despite Burton’s own personal origins in a Welsh mining village. A much more representative working class voice, certainly for the North West of England is the character of Arthur Seaton played convincingly by Salford actor Albert Finney in the movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. 1960
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is set in working class Nottingham. Arthur Seaton is a rebellious factory worker who works hard in the factory by day, but at the weekend he spends his money in the pubs and clubs of the town. He is involved with a married woman but starts to lose interest when he meets a single girl called Doreen and begins a relationship with her. My favourite line from the book and the movie is this: “I’m not barmy, I’m a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me. But if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me! God knows what I am. “
A Taste of Honey. 1961
Written as a play by Shelagh Delaney when she was only eighteen, the work was first performed at Joan Littlewood’s theatre workshop in 1958. The movie version opened in 1961 adapted by Delaney herself and directed by Tony Richardson, who incidentally also directed the film version of ‘Look Back in Anger.’ The movie features outstanding performances by Dora Bryan and Rita Tushingham.
Alfie was directed by Lewis Gilbert who directed some of the earlier Bond films. The script was produced by Bill Naughton and adapted from his own book and play. Alfie is a fascinating film on many levels. It’s a peek back at the swinging sixties; it explores the elements of comedy versus drama, something I’ve always loved and which I looked at recently in a post about the TV show MASH. Once again it’s about the working class and features great performances from all the principal and supporting actors. One fabulous feature is how Alfie talks directly to the camera and sometimes even says things that directly contradict something he is doing or saying to another character. In the opening sequence Michael Caine as Alfie addresses the audience and tells them not to expect any titles. There are none, except for the film title itself and the closing credits feature photos of the cast and crew. Many actors turned down the chance to play Alfie on film, including Caine’s then flat mate Terence Stamp who played the part on Broadway. Laurence Harvey, James Booth and Richard Harris all turned down the role, and Alfie became a breakthrough movie for Michael Caine. My favourite line from the film comes right at the end when Alfie is reflecting about his life: “What have I got? Really? Some money in my pocket. Some nice threads, fancy car at my disposal, and I’m single. Yeah… unattached, free as a bird… I don’t depend on nobody. Nobody depends on me. My life’s my own. But I don’t have peace of mind. And if you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing. So… So what’s the answer? That’s what I keep asking myself. What’s it all about? You know what I mean? “
Billy Liar. 1963
Billy Liar is based on the book by Keith Waterhouse and was directed by John Schlessinger. Tom Courtney played the title role and many faces familiar to TV viewers appear in the cast such as Wilfred Pickles, Rodney Bewes, and Leonard Rossiter. Billy has an imaginary world in which he plays out many daydreams and fantasies. His ambition though is to become a comedy scriptwriter and his friend Liz played by Julie Christie offers to go with him to London. In the final scenes however, Billy loses his nerve and contrives to miss his train, something that Liz has foreseen and has conveniently left his suitcase on the platform for him.
A Kind of Loving. 1962
This is another 60’s classic directed by John Schelssinger. Adapted from the book by Stan Barstow (one of my all time favourite books) with a script by Keith Waterhouse (who wrote Billy Liar) and Wallis Hall. The story is a very simple one; Vic Brown (Alan Bates) is a draughtsman in a Manchester factory and he gets involved with secretary called Ingrid played by June Ritchie. When Vic learns Ingrid is pregnant, he does the ‘proper’ thing for the 1960s and offers to marry her. Sounds simple but this is a complex and fascinating film and looks at the subtleties of relationships and how the characters make their way through a series of difficult choices. For a northerner like me, it’s also nice to see places I recognise on film. St Annes On Sea looks a little grim, or did do in the 1960’s. Today it’s a lovely place to live.
Spring and Port Wine. 1969
Hollywood movie star James Mason, famous for roles like the drunken movie star in A Star is Born and the suave villain in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, left Hollywood in 1963, settled in Switzerland and embarked on a more transatlantic career. One of those projects was Spring and Port Wine. The movie is set in Bolton and is about factory worker Rafe Crompton and his family. His daughter played by Susan George is acting strangely and Rafe struggles to dominate her, his other daughter played by Hannah Gordon and his sons, Rodney Bewes and Len Jones. It later transpires the Susan George character may be pregnant and the family rally round to help her. Sadly, I couldn’t find a clip on you tube but the film poster is over to the right.
The Family Way 1966
The Family Way is one of my very favourite films and like Spring and Port Wine above, features a classic movie actor, John Mills, in a very different role. Saying that, Mills’ film career was diverse to say the least and in this movie he plays Ezra Fitton whose son has just married Jenny, played by Mills’ real life daughter, Hayley. Various problems plague the newly weds, in particular a holiday that never happens due to a travel agent absconding with their funds. Hints are made during the film that Ezra’s son may not even be his son after all. When the truth dawns on Ezra his son asks what is wrong and Ezra replies with the most memorable line in the film; “It’s life lad. Sometimes it’ll make you laugh and sometimes it’ll make you bloody cry!” Time and time again, and I don’t know if you have ever found the same thing, but certain movies I love always seem to have a common denominator. In this case Spring and Port Wine, The Family Way, and Alfie were all penned by the same author, Bill Naughton.
One final kitchen sink drama: ‘Floating In Space’ by Steve Higgins. Click the icon below to go to my Amazon page or check out the links at the top of the page.