Shelagh Delaney (née Sheila Mary Delaney; 25 November 1938 – 20 November 2011) was an English playwright.
Born in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire, from a working-class family, Delaney attended Broughton Secondary School, where, at twelve, she saw a play for the first time. It was an amateur performance of Shakespeare’s Othello, which made a great impression on her. At fifteen, Delaney transferred to Pendleton High School, but dropped out at seventeen. After leaving school, she held a variety of jobs, such as shop assistant, clerk in a milk depot, usherette at the Manchester Opera House (she could watch the plays for free), and assistant in the photography department of an engineering factory.
Her driving ambition had always been to write, and, at seventeen, Delaney began working on A Taste of Honey, which she initially planned to be a novel. However, after seeing a play that portrayed working-class characters in a stereotypical way, Delaney decided to change her novel into a play. She took a fortnight off work to rewrite it.
A Taste of Honey was first performed on May 27, 1958. “Coming from a Lancashire city which is devastated not by war but by industry and by years of pre-war unemployment, she is the antithesis of London’s ‘angry young men’. She knows what she is angry about” – this was the way Delaney was described in the programme of the play. She was 19.
According to Michael Patterson, A Taste of Honey was “probably the most performed play by a post-war British woman playwright“. The play was made into a film, in 1961, directed by Tony Richardson. It won the BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award, in 1962.
In 1963, Delaney started an affair with a married man who was 20 years her senior. She had a daughter, Charlotte, and embarked on single motherhood.
Delaney wrote a second play, in 1960, and a short-story collection, in 1963, as well as several screenplays for radio, film, and television. In 1985, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Delaney died from breast cancer and heart failure, on November 20, 2011.
- A Taste of Honey (1958, play)
- The Lion in Love (1960, play)
- Sweetly Sings the Donkey (1963, short stories)
- Tastes of Honey: The Making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution, by Selina Todd (2019)
- Sweetly Sings Delaney: A Study of Shelagh Delaney’s Work 1958-68, by John Harding (2014)
- Modern British Drama: the Twentieth Century, by C.D. Innes (2002)
- The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights, ed. Elaine Aston; Janelle G. Reinelt (2000)
- Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. George Stade, Karen Karbiener, Christine L. Krueger (2003)
- British realist theatre: the new wave in its context 1956–1965, by Stephen Lacey (1995)