Born in Salford in 1938, Shelagh Delaney was just 18 years old and new to the world of theatre when she began to write A Taste of Honey, the play for which she is now widely known. In the blink of an eye she was the talk of the industry: by 1958, the play had been produced by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and was winning over critics and audiences alike; the next year, it opened in the West End to similarly positive reviews. Undeterred by this instant fame, Delaney then adapted her debut for the big screen with aplomb – the resulting film premiered in 1961 and went on to win numerous awards, with Delaney still in her early twenties. All told, a remarkable entrance, made possible thanks to a sterling play and this plucky letter of introduction from Delaney to Littlewood, sent just two weeks after loading her first sheet of paper into a typewriter.
Dear Miss Littlewood
Along with this letter comes a play, the first I have written. I wondered if you would read it through and send it back to me because no matter what sort of theatrical atrocity it might be, it isn’t valueless so far as I’m concerned.
A fortnight ago I didn’t know the theatre existed, but a young man, anxious to improve my mind, took me to the Opera House in Manchester and I came away after the performance having suddenly realised that at last, after nineteen years of life, I had discovered something that meant more to me than myself. I sat down and thought. The following day I bought a packet of paper and borrowed an unbelievable typewriter which I still have great difficulty in using. I set to and produced this little epic – don’t ask me why – I’m quite unqualified for anything like this. But at least I finished it and if, from among the markings and the typing errors and the spelling mistakes, you can gather a little sense from what I have written – or a little nonsense – I should be extremely grateful for your criticism – though I hate criticism of any kind.
I want to write for the theatre, but I know so very little about it. I know nothing, have nothing – except a willingness to learn – and intelligence.