A Taste of Honey – a film by Tony Richardson (1961)
"You need someone to love you while you're looking for someone to love."
The daughter of an Irish-born bus inspector father, Joseph, and a Salford born mother, Elsie Tremlow, Delaney was born in 1938
in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire. At the age of 19, in just ten days, she wrote her first play, "A Taste of Honey", which is set in her native Salford. She has said that she decided to become a playwright after seeing Terence Rattigan's "Variation on a Theme" (some sources say it was after seeing "Waiting for Godot"). Delaney felt she could do better than Rattigan, partly because she felt "Variation..." showed "insensitivity in the way Rattigan portrayed homosexuals”.
At the peak of Mary Whitehouse's widely influential campaign to cleanse the media of explicit sexual content and what she considered immoral and un-Christian liberal attitudes, Delaney's play dealt sympathetically not just with homosexuality but teenage and extramarital sex, illegitimacy, interracial relationships, petty crime and family break-up. Her play was (bravely) accepted by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and first performed at The Theatre Royal Stratford East on the 27th of May 1958.
The main theme of “A Taste of Honey” is the breakdown of a mother/daughter relationship and the damage each causes to the other by their probably largely unconscious attempts at destroying each other’s chances of happiness. Its totally uncompromising realism and rejection of sentimentality shocked audiences of the time and was pivotal in setting the tone of what came to be called the British New Wave in cinema.
"A Taste of Honey" was adapted into the present film, released in 1961 with Delaney as an extra in the opening netball scene. Delaney wrote the screenplay in collaboration with the director, Tony Richardson. According to Phil Wickham, writing for the Screenonline website, the film script "contrives to keep in Delaney's best lines while creating a cinematic rather than a theatrical experience".
According to the British Film Institute, as well as launching Rita Tushingham as the face of the British New Wave, the film "broke a terrific number of taboos, and dealt with thorny subject matter like teen pregnancy without judgement or sensationalism ... It’s about human beings rather than ‘issues’; that it shows underrepresented people as having dreams and desires and inner lives, instead of overlooking, condemning or caricaturing them, is what makes the film still feel revolutionary ... (the film) broke new ground with its adult themes, interracial kiss and its commitment to filming on the streets."
The film was the inspiration for the song of the same title, originally an instrumental track written by Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow as a theme for the 1960 Broadway version of the play, then given words by Billy Dee Williams and released in 1961 on the Prestige label, and later recorded by many others including the Beatles. For our closing credits we have chosen the 1966 Johnny Mathis version.
The film won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award in 1962. Delaney's other screenplays include "The White Bus", "Charlie Bubbles" (both 1967) and "Dance with a Stranger" (1985). She also wrote the BBC series "The House That Jack Built" (1977), which she later adapted as an Off-Off-Broadway play in 1979. In 1985 Delaney was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She died from breast cancer and heart failure, five days before her 73rd birthday, at the home of her daughter Charlotte in Suffolk, England.