Bolton Library and Museum Services

Bill Naughton collection

Summary

Bill Naughton (1910 - 1992) is a key figure in post World War II English literary life. Naughton's best known works include Alfie (Naughton wrote the screenplay for the original film) and Spring And Port Wine (which was filmed in Bolton).

A popular and professional writer, his work reflects significant changes in consciousness and society in 1950s and 1960s Britain.

His autobiographies document with great insight, humour and understanding, Lancashire working class life in the period between wars. He was one of very few working class observers for the Mass Observation Project, which focused on life in Bolton in the late 1930s. The Archives and Local Studies Service received the microfilm of the Bolton material from the Mass Observation Archive in early 2001.

As an author whose family emigrated from Ireland in the early years of the century and who lived most of his childhood, adolescence and early manhood in Bolton, the archive is of immense local and national significance as a record of the complex heritage of northern working class culture - particularly as it relates to family, religion and community.

But the archive is also valuable in what it adds to an understanding of national life as a whole, for example, to changes in ideas of personal morality, the relationship between north and south, the professional, intellectual and spiritual life of the author during the period and the impact on radio and film on literature and literary life.

Advertisement for Spring And Port Wine

James Mason starred in the film adaptation of Naughton's play 'Spring and Port Wine'. This promotional flyer announced the world premiere

Early years

Bill Naughton was born in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo in 1910 in relative poverty and moved with his family to Bolton, Lancashire in his early childhood (1914). The experiences of his early years were the seedbed of his volumes of autobiography which contain vivid evocations of the impoverished mining communities of the North of England, communities bound together by ties of family, kith and kin. His descriptions of northern life of the post first world war era have few parallels in literature.

Radio and TV

After leaving school he embarked on a number of menial jobs, writing mainly for himself, but later submitting short stories to magazines and newspapers. He lived in Bolton until 1939 and was employed as a coalbagger and driver by the Co-op, now United Norwest Co-operatives, when he left to be a civil defence driver in London during the war.

Gradually his reputation grew.  Work for the BBC began and he became well known as a writer of plays and short stories which were broadcast both on radio and television. His radio play 'June Evening' was televised in Jul 1960 and was very influential, causing a sensation as one of the first 'kitchen sink' TV plays, nine months before Coronation Street was first aired. Naughton contended that Granada lifted his idea, the story being set around one Lancashire Street with a corner shop.

Theatre and cinema

New York advertisement for All In Good Time

An advertisement for the play 'All In Good Time' performed at the Royale Theatre in New York

In the post-war period he ventured into theatre and cinema. All his plays were produced first at the Mermaid Theatre in association with Bernard Miles. The first of these 'All in Good Time' was greeted by critics with the accolade that Bill Naughton was the leading and unbeatable candidate for the title of best new playwright 1963.

It was then followed by 'Alfie' and 'Spring and Port Wine', all three plays went to the West End, then to Broadway and were finally filmed. They were important contributions to the 1960s output of British films and plays. His most celebrated screenplay 'Alfie', caught the soul of 1960s Britain and propelled Michael Caine into international celebrity.

Bill was a recipient of the Screenwriters award 1967 and 1968 and the Prix Italia for Radio Play 1974. He settled with his second wife Ema in the Isle of Man producing a stream of radio plays, adaptations, children's books, autobiographies and other writings, all the while writing his diaries in secret, a labour which he described as his real work and which would one day show itself to be the key to all his other writing. In addition, fascinated by dreams, as was his cotemporary Graham Greene, he produced his yet unpublished 'The Dream Mind'.

Contribution

Naughton's importance as a literary figure lies as a documentor of the mores of his age, whether locally in Ireland or the North in the post World War period or the life of the so-called swinging sixties where with Orton and Osborne he proved himself to be very much the chronicler of the age. But Naughton was a far more vigorous and productive author than those writers. His output for the BBC alone constitutes a rather prominent part of the history of that  institution. The contribution to the cultural life of the nation of the Third Programme in the 50s and 60s in literature as well as music has yet to be be fully assessed. Naughton alongside Beckett, Pinter, Osborne and others played a great role in that 'golden age' 'Alfie' began life as a radio play.

The Naughton Archive Project

Bill Naughton's invite to the movie premiere for Alfie

Bill Naughton's invite to the premiere of the cinematic adaptation for 'Alfie'

Bill Naughton is most famously known for his film 'Alfie', starring Michael Caine as the Cockney Casanova.  However, he was a prolific author and playwright with a number of hits on screen, stage, radio and TV.  A great deal of this work was based on his own experiences, growing up in Bolton in the 1920s.  These stories, plays and films include among many others 'Spring and Port Wine', 'The Family Way', 'The Goalkeeper's Revenge' and 'June Evening'.

Bolton Council successfully bid for funding to purchase Bill Naughton's Archive which was offered for sale at Sotheby's for £80,000.  The bid was put together for funding not only to purchase the archive but to catalogue it, provide storage space and to encourage public use.

The Heritage Lottery Fund provided £81,500 of the capital required.  Other bids were also successful including £20,525 from the Friends of National Libraries.  Other contributors to the total cost of the project include Bolton Libraries, Bolton Institute of Higher Education (now the University of Bolton) and The Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund.

The collection includes original manuscripts of Naughton's autobiographies, plays, novels, stories and films with amendments, rewrites and some unpublished material.  There are also folders of correspondence to personal friends, agents, the BBC as well as actors and other writers.  Naughton was an enthusiastic and committed journal writer and these have also been purchased by the Library but will remain closed to public view until 2015.

The collection was transferred to Bolton Library in May 2000 and an archivist appointed to begin sorting and cataloguing in September 2000.  The archive is now available to the public for research.  A searchable catalogue is available in the History Centre.

Brief description of the archive

Radio listing for the play June Evening

A listing for the radio play 'June Evening' broadcast on the Third Programme in July 1958

Extracted from Sotheby's catalogue

The archive includes:

  • completed texts of Bill Naughton's most famous works of fiction, screenplays, stage and radio drama, stories and children's books
  • Drafts, revision, amended proofs and post-publication alterations to many works
  • Unpublished typescripts
  • The writers notebooks and a huge collection of diaries kept from the 1930s
  • Collections of letters from other writers (Frank O'Connor, Samuel Beckett etc) and a collection documenting the author's professional contacts over may years

The collection contains drafts, redrafts, fair-copies, proofs, further revisions, the published version and further post publication alterations of all of Bill Naughton's works including over 200 short stories, articles, plays, radio-plays, children's books, memoirs etc from the 1930s to the 1990s covering many thousands of pages. The works include in addition to the many versions of 'Alfie' and 'Alfie Darling':

  • 'Spring and Port Wine'
  • 'A Roof over your head'
  • 'Rafe Granite'
  • 'One Small Bay'
  • 'Late Night on Watling St'
  • 'Goalkeepers Revenge'
  • 'On the Pig's Back'
  • 'Saintly Billy'
  • 'Neither Use Nor Ornament'
  • 'Voices from a Journal' (recently published)
  • 'The Dream Mind' (recently published)

...and many others.

Most are written in ink, pencil and latterly felt tip. In addition there are 5 trunks of diaries from the 1930s-90s which are locked and subject to closure until 2015.

Letters

There is also an important collection of letters from other writers including the Irish short story writer Frank O'Conner and a few from Samuel Beckett, with many files of neatly documented letters recording Naughton's dealings with the BBC and with publishers including contracts and other material.

A free guide to the collection with details of Naughton's life and work written by Sam Collenette, Barry Wood and Larysa Mitchell is available from the Archives and Local Studies Unit.  Please contact us to request a copy.