In April 1958, nineteen-year-old Sheila Delaney, daughter of a Salford bus inspector, sent a manuscript to Joan Littlewood, director of the Theatre Workshop in London. She signed it Shelagh Delaney, believing ‘Sheila’ to be too common.
A Taste of Honey, the work contained in the manuscript, is a play about the daughter of a single mother who becomes pregnant as a result of an affair with a sailor. She finds a kind of family life in her relationship with a gay man who is keen to make a home for her and the baby. With startling modernity, it presents race and sexuality as artificial divisions. The crucial detail is that she is pregnant; the fact that the father is black is not the main issue. Similarly, the most sympathetic male character happens to be homosexual, but the play does not present this as a problem. Writing at a time when most working-class characters in the theatre were loyal servants or were simply there to provide comic relief, Delaney was the first postwar playwright to suggest that their lives were worthy of dramatic treatment and that working-class women had minds and desires of their own.
The immediate success of her play made Delaney the most famous teenager in Britain at a time when teenagers were emerging as a potent tribal presence. She was not, though, a prophet respected in her own country: the local paper was upset that Salford was now thought of as ‘a