06 February, 2009
Alan Sillitoe is an English writer, one of the "Angry Young Men" of the 1950s.
Sillitoe was born in Nottingham, to working class parents. Like Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of Sillitoe's first novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, his father worked in the Raleigh factory.
He left school at the age of 14 and spent his time reading. He served in the Royal Air Force, where he was a wireless operator. After returning to England from Malaya, he was discovered to have tuberculosis and he spent sixteen months in an RAF hospital.
Pensioned off at 21 on 45 shillings at week, he lived in France and Spain for seven years in an attempt to recover. In 1955, whilst living in Mallorca with his lover, American poet Ruth Fainlight, and in contact with the poet Robert Graves, Sillitoe commenced work on Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was published in 1958. Influenced in part by the stripped-down prose of Hemingway, the book conveys the attitudes and situation of a young factory worker faced with the inevitable end of his youthful philandering. As with John Osbourne's Look Back in Anger and John Braine's Room at the Top, the novel's real subject was the disillusionment of post-war Britain, and the lack of opportunities for the working class. It was adapted as a film by Karel Reisz in 1960, with Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton.
His story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, which concerns the rebellion of a borstal boy with a talent for running, won the Hawthornden Prize in 1959. It was also adapted to film in 1962, this time directed by Tony Richardson, and starring Tom Courtenay.
In 1990, he was awarded an honorary degree from Nottingham Trent University. The city's older, prestigious Russell Group university, The University of Nottingham, also awarded Sillitoe an honorary DLitt degree in 1994, and in 2006 his best known play was staged at the University's Lakeside Arts theatre in an in-house production.
Sillitoe has written many novels, and several volumes of poetry. His 1995 autobiography, Life Without Armour was critically acclaimed on publication, and offers a view into his squalid childhood.
In 2007 Gadfly in Russia, an account of his travels in Russia spanning 40 years, was published. In 2008 London Books republished A Start in Life as part of their London Classics series and to mark the author's 80th birthday. He was honoured with an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs on 25 January 2009.
Sillitoe is married to Ruth Fainlight, lives in London and has two children.