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The Rest is Propaganda: Celebrating Alan Sillitoe

“Illegitimi non carborundum” , in literati Latin, or “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”, as Arthur Seaton, the anti-hero of “Saturday Night Sunday Morning” would translate into more local tones.  Arthur, the ‘angry young man’ of local author Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 era-defining novel, and his modern counterparts wildly roaming the streets of inner-Nottingham, was the subject of much debate at the second annual  Sillitoe Day, 27th October at Nottingham Contemporary.

Organised by the Alan Sillitoe Committee, the event celebrated the work of the Nottingham-born author, who in 2008 became an Honorary Freeman of the City of Nottingham at a lacklustre ceremony I attended. He forthwith had the right to drive his sheep over Trent Bridge, which he sadly didn’t do prior to his death in 2010, aged 82.

The day brought together authors, film-makers, academics, bands, poets, rappers and historians to celebrate and share new perspectives about Sillitoe’s work and legacy.

About Alan Sillitoe

Sillitoe, from a working class Nottingham family whose father worked at the Raleigh Factory, depicted the brutality of working class realism in his numerous books, screenplays and volumes of poetry in his five-decade career.  With John Osbourne and others, he was labelled by literary critics as part of the post-war ‘Angry Young Man’ movement.

Sillitoe spent four years working at Raleigh before joining the RAF.  He was pensioned off at 21 after he contracted tuberculosis when he started to write – a significant achievement given his educational background.  Sillitoe’s schoolmates did not believe someone educated at Radford Elementary School could have written a book – they believed it must have been written by his university educated wife, as their education was only fit to progress into manual work.

His two best-selling books, whose self-penned screenplays were made into feature films, “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning” and “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” depict working-class rebels with a cause.  Sillitoe posited the grim streets of Nottingham into an international media.  As Dickens novels are a geo-literary aid to London, Sillitoe’s Nottingham  navigates the reader on a route of seedy pubs, clubs and fairgrounds.

Sillitoe Trail

Sillitoe was fascinated by maps and technologies like short-wave radio from his time as an RAF wireless operator in Malaya.  The Sillitoe Trail brings together geo-history with modern day content and technology through a mobile app, navigating sites from Sillitoe’s novels.

Funded by the Arts Council and the BBC, the Sillitoe Trail  is the only project funded outside of London as part of ‘The Space‘ – creating rich media arts content for multiple platforms.  The app brings together an impressive array of illustration, music, audio and interactive content produced by artists, authors and students from the city.  Content was taken from archives liked the BFI and Media Archive of Central England (MACE).

The project was introduced by its digital creator, Paul Fillingham, who came from a mining village and returned to Nottingham after art college to work for Raleigh as a graphic designer.  The app tours sites like Goose Fair, the Raleigh Building (now a university outpost), the White Horse pub (now a curry house) and Arthur Seaton’s R&R spot for fishing in the canal (now trendy flats and business parks).

The Sillitoe Trail app is an evolving work – you can submit your own trail; the producers are in discussion with Nottingham City Council to add QR codes to signs which would allow people to download audio and rich media content like Arthur Seaton speaking to you from Market Square.

The Sillitoe Trail app is now available in the Android Store, coming soon to Apple for iPhone and iPad.  Read more about the Sillitoe Trail, and get a preview of its content in The Space; nominate the project on Twitter with hashtag: #thespacefaves.

I particularly like the project’s Twitter feed @thespacelathe (manned by writer James Walker) tweeting lines from Sillitoe’s books – a delightful interweaving of micro-literature in the context of kitchen-sink news and chatter on Twitter.

Al Needham: 21 Pubs

Left Lion
editor Al Needham‘s illustrated film shows 21 years and 21 pubs of his childhood – yet only one exists today as a public house. Needham’s film is a fascinating insight into the fringes of Notts drinking history – like his boyhood aspiration of growing up to visit the Bierkeller to rub shoulders with Forest players and Trent FM DJ Dale Winton.  Pubs are intrinsic to the student and tourism industry of Nottingham, though Needham’s portrait shows that pubs are no longer an integral part of their communities.

Needham believes the Arthur Seaton of 2012, since the city’s industrial decline, no longer works in a factory but still spends his Saturday night propping up a bar – working behind it.  This gives him access to his two many passions: to rise above the herd and get ready access to women who know what they want.

Al Needham: Life Through 21 Pubs (video on YouTube)

Sam Derby-Cooper: Mimic

Sillitoe’s work translate well to film; Sam Derby-Cooper’s short film ‘Mimic’, based on Sillitoe’s, acclaimed short story:

Sillitoe on film

Sillitoe was celebrated by acclaimed local screenwriter Michael Eaton – contrasted his and Sillitoe’s lives coming from the ‘east’ and ‘west’ (of Nottingham) where Eaton’s Carlton-based parents worked at Plessey and Players and referred to folks as ‘duck’ and even ‘sausage’, compared to the tougher west city lads from Radford and Raleigh and Home brewery.

TVscreenwriter Billy Ivory was encouraged to pursue his writing after mentoring by Sillitoe.  He introduced Sillitoe’s work as a screenplay writer and the opening scene of Saturday Night Sunday Morning film – a perfect set up of the character’s universe and the repetition of toiling every day at a factory lathe.

Film-maker Frank Abbott showed a work-in-progress of his remix of “Saturday Night Sunday Morning”- juxtaposing contemporary images to ‘mash up’ and remixes the film.  See an interview with Frank about the film on Left Lion. The live film event will be shown at Lakeside Arts Centre, Jan 26th 2013.

Seaton Rifles

Sillitoe Day’s evening event brought together a collective of diverse Notts musicians who all epitomised the spirit of Sillitoe.  It was great to hear singers, rappers and poets proud to speak in broad Notts accents, particularly young beatboxer and rapper Motormouf whose rap contrasted Arthur Seaton’s fishing relaxation with how we can switch off in a post-Facebook digital age.

1970s post-punk band Gaffa reformed to relive hits such as ‘Goose Fair Girls’  and a less ‘angry young man’ more ‘pipe and slippers’  song about hanging out in their allotment.

Sleaford Mods at Sillitoe Day, Nottingham Contemporary

Sleaford Mods at Sillitoe Day, Nottingham Contemporary

But the highlight of the evening was the man who is as close to a modern day Arthur Seaton as there can be, Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods.  His new album ‘Wank‘ includes catchy numbers like ‘The Wage Don’t Fit’ .  Williamson and his producer Andrew Fearn create a potent combination of atonal and classic R&B loops juxtaposed with vile, vitriolic rants doused in ten buckets of filth, on subjects including job-seeking, working in Little Chef and the dark side of East Midlands urban life.

As part of The Space project, Jason Williamson takes the role of Arthur Seaton, narrating a commentary on the writers interpretations of the project – a ghost of the past critiquing our technological present, bringing present and past pioneers together.

Sillitoe Day was a fantastic celebration of literature re-invented for the digital age, and a positive celebration of Notts culture and history from a literary perspective.  I hope next year’s event will take the committee closer to their goal of establishing a permanent memorial to Sillitoe.

In the words of Arthur Seaton: I’m out for a good time – all the rest is propaganda!

Find out more about Sillitoe day on TV: Inside Out: East Midlands BBC One, Monday 29th October

Find out more about Alan Sillitoe’s legacy and dig deep to donate towards the Sillitoe Memorial Fund.