(British, 1928– )
Born in a Nottingham council house, Sillitoe left school at 14, and after various factory jobs joined the RAF as a wireless operator. While living in Majorca and struggling to be published, it was the poet Robert Graves who suggested he write something set in Nottingham, as the place he knew best. The result was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), which dropped like a bombshell into the staid and snooty post-war literary scene. Here was real working-class life, written from the inside, in language of raw energy that was direct and down-to-earth. It tells the story of hard-drinking, womanizing Arthur Seaton, a worker at the Raleigh bicycle factory, whose creed is ‘Don't let the bastards grind you down’. Played by Albert Finney in the hugely successful film, the bolshie antihero caught exactly the emerging spirit of the age. Mining the same rich seam, the stories in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959) focus on loners and misfits who won't knuckle under and do what society demands. Like his creation Arthur, Sillitoe's an awkward customer, with his own dogged vision and stubborn honesty, never more so than in the semiautobiographical Raw Material (1972) with its unflinching picture of a poor family in the Depression. As well as many novels, he has published several volumes of poetry, and particularly recommended are his Collected Stories (1996) containing a selection from five volumes over four decades, and his fascinating autobiography, Life Without Armour (1995).
John Braine, Stan Barstow, John Wain TH