An appreciation of Bill's work by Dave Burnham
Bill Naughton is the most successful writer to come from Bolton. He is best remembered for three films: Alfie, The Family Way and Spring and Port Wine, the latter two unequivocally set in Bolton. He won many prizes for his work between the late 1950s and 1970s and his importance to Bolton is deep rooted. Revivals and spin offs of his work have been regularly performed at the Octagon, following a tradition set right from the theatre’s opening night in November 1967. The first play performed there was Naughton’s Annie and Fanny about a group of Lancashire workers on a coach trip to Italy. Naughton is also well known for children’s books, such as My Pal Spadger and collections of short stories such as The Goalkeeper’s Revenge; his work studied in schools for decades. His autobiographies, published at the end of his life and much of his fiction draw heavily from his childhood in Unsworth Street, off Derby Street, Bolton between the Great War and the start of World War Two.
The local arts organisation Live from Worktown has produced a brief biography of Bill Naughton to accompany the Bill Naughton Season of events in the autumn of 2017, which can be purchased here
In 1941 Bill Naughton left his family and work as a coal delivery driver in Bolton, taking only a holdall and his typewriter with him to London. He found work as a civil defence driver, transporting people (and their goods) who’d been bombed out across London to new addresses. One lunchtime in 1943 sitting in his cab he read a story in the London Evening News. He thought to himself, ‘I could do better than that’, typed a story, Ghost Driver, submitted it, had it accepted and was asked for more. He submitted more stories to the Evening News, then to magazines Argosy, Picture Post and Lilliput. Lilliput became a key source of income for him, with up to seven of his stories a year published to the early 1950s. At £15 a story this provided a basic income. By 1945 he’d decided to try and earn a living as a writer and gave up driving for good. Then, one night, Charles Madge heard Bill read one of his stories (Old Mikey) on BBC national radio . Madge knew Bill as a volunteer with the Mass Observation survey in Bolton in 1938. By 1944 Madge, poet by trade, was a director of a small publishing house, the Pilot Press. He contacted Bill and asked him to write a novel with an advance of £30. Bill produced the achingly raw A Roof Over Your Head (1945) – receiving another £50 on delivery. Roof contains scenes from his life of poverty and unemployment in Bolton in the early 1930s and his elopement with his first wife Nan when the young couple found she was pregnant. It is entirely autobiographical but is episodic, containing no single narrative thread. It was well reviewed and sold well. Madge then published Naughton’s novels Pony Boy (1946) and Rafe Granite (1947).