Bibliography: A Work in Progress
Bill Naughton constantly reworked his material, either into different formats or into different stories. Much of his work appears first as a short story then a radio play then a TV play. He also changed the titles of almost identical pieces. So this bibliography, whose aim is to be clear and brief, has not been easy to construct. It mentions only his more significant pieces. Therefore it is neither entirely accurate, nor properly chronological and is far from comprehensive. Sorry.
Naughton’s first published short story appeared in the London Evening News in 1943. This may have been called Ghost Driver but there is no version of it in Bolton Archive’s Bill Naughton Collection. Through his life Naughton wrote hundreds of short stories, at least 50 in the later 1940s. Although his work appeared in several publications, Lilliput Magazine seems to have been his main source of income, accepting dozens of his stories in this period at something like £15 a story – so this gave him a basic income. One of the earliest was Spiv in Love (Lilliput, May 1947) and a non-fiction piece Meet the Spiv (News Chronicle, Sept 1945). These pieces are credited with introducing the word ‘spiv’ into general use. It is also from these pieces and stories such as The Little Welsh Girl and Taking a Beauty Queen Home that Alfie Elkins emerges. And many themes and ideas in Naughton’s later work appear very early in these short stories in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
A Roof Over Your Head, 1945. This, his first ‘novel’, is wholly autobiographical. It is raw and more open about his own life than he later became. Roof concentrates on his elopement, marriage, work and poverty. Several events used in later publications appear here, including in Pony Boy and November Day.
Pony Boy, 1946. This is a tale of two fourteen year olds getting jobs as carters in London. It is finished off with a lorry trip to Liverpool in search of adventure.
There are many short items appearing in a whole range of magazines, newspapers and journals. A Night Out with Lannigan (Irish Writing, issue 1) suggests his Irish roots were important to him from very early on.
Rafe Granite, 1947. A well plotted novel. This is the template for Spring and Port Wine. But Rafe Granite is infinitely darker than Spring and Port Wine, pushing to brutal extremes the consequences of a father with inflexible expectations of and complete control over his family.
A Man’s Life – Lilliput, Sept 1950. This is the tale of a man and his son Sean. Naughton’s baby who died in 1935 was called Sean and the structure of the story parallels his relationship with Gerti Wagner.
Yorky, Nathanial Titlark, Starr and Co. Between 1955 and 1958 Naughton worked on three TV series. He was not happy with Starr and not really comfortable with any of it as he was either working with other people’s characters or having to work in tandem with other writers. Nathaniel Titlark was originally scripted by James Hodson from Bury, although unlike Naughton he came from a very affluent background. But Hodson died and Naughton took over. Through this work Bill established his relationship with the actor playing Titlark, Bernard Miles, who subsequently, as the power behind the Mermaid theatre, gave Naughton the platform for his stage breakthrough in the early 1960s. Of the three TV series it is Titlark, rustic philosopher, which sounds the most interesting and may have been the inspiration for Badger Brown in the stage play He Was Gone When We Got There. Bits and pieces of the TV scripts survive in Bolton Archive’ s Bill Naughton Collection.
One Small Boy, 1957. This is Bill’s early life in Mayo disrupted by the move to England. Like Saintly Billy it concentrates on his family, school and street life between 1914, and the mid 1920s. It is a fine piece of semi-autobiographical writing.
June Evening (radio play on the Third Programme in July 1958, TV play June 1960). This is an ensemble piece about the goings on in one street the evening of Derby Day 1921. It has 50 parts and Naughton accused Tony Warren of stealing the idea for Coronation Street from it. Naughton used the idea again and again. Derby Day, 1921 a radio play developed from June Evening, was adapted for the stage and played at the Octagon in 1994. Can Row Corner, another radio play is based on June Evening as well. June Evening included several examples of Naughton’s genius for capturing realistic conversations with groups of people. It was regularly mentioned as one of the precursors of the ‘kitchen sink’ drama.
Jackie Crowe (radio play) A man making his success in London as a gambler and ticket tout returns to review his earlier life in a working-class family. Naughton’s regular technique of using an ‘observer’ to ask questions and take the narrative forward is in evidence here . Again much coming from Naughton’s own life is here.
The Goalkeeper’s Revenge is a set of stories mostly for children and Late Night on Watling Street is a set of mostly adult stories. Of the 32 stories in both volumes 18 at least were revived from short stories originally published in the 1940s. Many people in their forties remember these stories from school, Spit Nolan, intrepid trolley racer, being the most memorable character.
The three stage plays mentioned below, all performed originally at the Mermaid Theatre and produced by Bernard Miles were subsequently turned into highly successful films. These plays represent Bill Naughton’s breakthrough. Although Alfie only had a small budget the latter two films had high profile actors, considerable (very expensive) location work and the commissioning of people like Paul McCartney for the music.
Alfie Elkins and His Little Life (radio play 1962. This was followed up by Alfie, a stage play and culminated in the extraordinarily successful 1966 film which launched Michael Caine’s career. A postscript to this was the 1970 novel and 1975 film Alfie Darling).
Honeymoon Postponed/All in Good Time/The Family Way 1963. Stage play at the Mermaid Theatre, London, then a film starring John Mills, Hayley Mills and Hywell Bennet.
My Flesh My Blood/Spring and Port Wine (stage play then film 1970. Alfred Marx played Rafe Crompton on stage, replaced by the altogether higher profile James Mason in the film).
All these plays transferred to Broadway but none was a success. The film Alfie meanwhile did travel and earned Naughton an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay.
Annie and Fanny. An earlier version was called Wigan to Rome and was based on a coach trip Bill Naughton took to Italy in the 1950s. This was chosen as the first play performed at the Octagon Theatre in November 1967.
He Was Gone When They Got There. It seems the idea occurred to him in 1959 but it played at the Mermaid in July 1965. The premise is that a government computer, SIMON, has had all the information about everyone in Britain fed into it, save for one person, Badger Brown rustic ne’erdowell. The conceit is the tussle between the forces of order and the forces of humanity. It was not a success.
Alfie Darling (1970) A novel follow up to Alfie. He is a driver on the continent and falls in love. It was turned into a film in 1975. Naughton did not like it and it was not a success. (In the film Alan Price was added to the list of actors who played Alfie Elkins: Bill Owen, John Neville, Terence Stamp, Michael Caine, Dennis Waterman and later Jude Law).
The Mystery (1972) radio play, about the strained relationship between a couple. She wants the pets neutered; he goes into hospital to have the operation in their stead. This peculiar idea was based on one of Naughton’s dreams.
Lighthearted Intercourse (1971). This stage play is about a couple in early 1930s with a baby and he unemployed. This is Bill and Nan’s experience early in marriage. It was revived at the Octagon in 2012, not very successfully. The idea was first aired in the 1947 novel A Roof Over Your Head, then in radio plays A Day’s Coal Bagging and November Day.
A Dog Called Nelson (1976) Naughton’s childhood streetscape again. Interesting that Nelson the free spirit has to die, just like Spadger Chadwick and Spit Nolan.
My Pal Spadger (1977) Novel for children using much of the material from One Small Boy short stories.
1980s and later
On the Pig’s Back: An Autobiographical Excursion (1987) The first of three. This includes references to his wartime writing and first return to Ireland, as well as memories of Unsworth Street.
Saintly Billy (1988). Bill’s life in Unsworth Street around the age of ten, focussing on his childhood religiosity – but falling out with God over the Creator’s refusal to arrange for a week away at Southport. The tightest of his autobiographies and possibly the best book he wrote.
Neither use Nor Ornament (1994). The final biographical volume, a swirl of experiences around Bill’s last days at school and first day at work in 1925.
Voices from a Journal (2000) extracts from Naughton’s voluminous journal, which tell tales about his friends including poet Louis McNiece, legendary Bolton Evening News editor Frank Singleton, Walter Greenwood, Patrick Kavanagh, John Ross McDonald, Charles Cope and Frank O’Connor. This sheds light on aspects of his life, but there seems to be an element of one-upmanship here, as if Naughton, or whoever put the selection together, is trying to ‘best’ people who had been his friends.
The Dream Mind (2009). Naughton’s contemplation of his dream life, in which he concludes that dreams are experienced to help us stay asleep. He worked on this between 1973 and 1990 and became very important to him.
The Bill Naughton Collection in Bolton Archive contains tens of thousands of individual documents, from simple notes to himself, letters, complaints, musings, to full scripts of all of his published work. It is a treasure trove or confusing jumble, depending on your point of view. There are, in this mass of documentation, several pieces which seem to have been unpublished, in particular there are the workings of a fourth autobiography, to have been called Young and Foolish or Wine and Roses (Bill Naughton always played around with titles). This is, although with some gaps, about 80% complete and may well be worth publishing. But there is a lot more…so go to it. Find those unpublished gems!
Dave Burnham, October 27 2017