Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Not Afraid of the Darkness Outside

‘A Taste of Honey’ (1961) is always worth dipping into, not least because of Dora Bryan in one of her best roles.  She manages to pull off tragic with hilariously funny at the same time, mostly because of the so recognisable language and turn of phrase.  Of course we have Shelagh Delaney to thank for the dialogue, but Dora’s delivery is top notch.  I’m sure I’m not alone in hearing echoes of my own family’s conversations in her lines.

The other major star of the film is the Greater Manchester location.  It is easy to see how this might have been utterly compelling viewing to contemporary audiences.  Most locations in other films that I have looked at on this blog are around London and the Home Counties – quite naturally as this is where the studios were.  To see the grim industrial north depicted so vividly without any fake romanticism is refreshing.  It is also now a window on England’s lost industrial past. All the factories have gone (or have become luxury apartments).  The canals are filled with pleasure craft.  A lot of the houses have been torn down.  I expect that for residents of the areas filmed (Salford, Stockport and Manchester) it’s a fascinating spot-the-landmark opportunity.

Myself, I find interest in the film as a documentary on the leisure habits of mid- 20th century industrial inhabitants.  This may be ironic given that the film is, on the whole, a tale of misery.  But though the lives depicted were nasty and brutish, the result was that any opportunity for fun, for a taste of honey, was grabbed by the throat.  We therefore, quite rightly for the film, have images of people drinking up entertainment with an enthusiasm that perhaps we have lost today, when we are entertained sedentarily by all manner of devices within our homes.  I spotted several ways in which the characters took part in activities that were once a common way of letting off steam.  Dora Bryan’s character (Helen) spends quite a lot of time out dancing, once the place to go for social contact.  Yes, we still have our nightclubs, but the kind of event that Helen attends attracts a much wider cross section of the population.  As Helen shows us, these are the places where many marriages were once agreed.

Helen’s new fiancée (Peter) arranges a day out in Blackpool, a day of complete hedonism by the seaside.  This part is the most up to date leisure activity showing yet again that our days by the beach have changed little for decades. The difference here from previous films showing similar scenes is that the party arrive by car.  Up to that point in time, most trippers would have arrived by train.  But flashy Peter in his motor is at the forefront of a trend.  One that would see Blackpool’s Central Station replaced by a car park in 1964.  Helen’s daughter Jo (Rita Tushingham) spoils the day out by being unco-operative and sulky.  She is sent home alone by bus – another example of the motor replacing rail.  Later, she takes a bus again for leisure purposes when she and her friend Geoffrey go to Castleton.  Castleton in Derbyshire is famed for its caves and the Blue John mineral and it has long been a destination for tourists.  It is Kinder Scout country, where the mass trespass in 1932 resulted in an opening up of much more of this area to the workers from Sheffield and Manchester, who were looking to stretch their weary limbs in the fresh air.  That two poor kids from Salford could hop on a bus and access such scenery – and do so as part of a story of this genre- shows what a vital lung the Peak District became in these times.

Sometimes people escaped by staying on their own doorstep.  The Greek Chorus in miniature of the local kids who play on the streets show how freedom of movement and imagination are sometimes all you need to gain respite from your situation.  The children know the area and where to find Jo.  This kind of knowledge is denied the modern child.  Scenes of a street festival and a fun fair also seem to be depicting an old fashioned way of having fun, drawing the whole community out of their houses in a way unknown today.

One glaring omission is a trip to the cinema to watch one of the latest releases!  But an interesting insight into the days before we all started staying in to watch an increasingly smaller screen.

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