After leaving school with a handful of O-Levels, there were few career options open to Shelagh, who spurned teaching and took on a series of dead end jobs, while she enjoyed going out dancing at the weekend.
She began writing her first play, A Taste of Honey, infuriated by a performance of Terence Rattigan's Variations on a Theme, which she felt showed "insensivity in the way Rattigan portrayed homosexuals".
Written in a fortnight, A Taste of Honey exploded on to the stage and quickly became considered the most performed play by a female playwright in post-war Britain. The play's teenage heroine Jo is dragged on midnight flits between dingy Salford bedsits by her feckless mother Helen, who is bent on marrying her flashy younger suitor (and concealing the fact that she's over 40).
|Rita Tushingham as Jo |
and Paul Danquah as Jimmy
The play was daring and controversial for its time, dealing with issues like race, homosexuality and teen pregnancy, but it was a great success. The rights to the 1961 film version, starring Rita Tushingham, earned Shelagh a whopping (for the time) £20,000, and her screenplay, co-writted with director Tony Richardson, won a BAFTA for best screenplay.
Shelagh never acheived quite the same splash with any of her other work, but she went on to write well-received screenplays for film and television, as well as radio plays, including a Ruth Ellis biopic, Dance with a Stranger (1895).
A Taste of Honey is one of my favourite films. Sharp, bitter, and funny - and one of Morrisey's main inspirations for The Smiths lyrics - it's well worth a watch!