Walter Greenwood’s Saturday Night at the Crown (1959)

Walter Greenwood is best remembered for Love on the Dole (1933), but he went on writing until the nineteen sixties and remained a popular author. I recently read his last novel and thought it reflected interestingly on his thoughts about later working-class life, though it is slightly beyond our time-period, strictly speaking. Greenwood’s final novel Saturday Night at the Crown (1959) is set entirely in a Manchester pub over the course of a single day, and its urban, wholly working-class setting makes it quite easily comparable to his pre-war fiction. It follows the fortunes of the landlord Harry Boothroyd, the barmaid Sally Earnshaw, the cook Maudie and a number of customers including the dominant Ada Thorpe and her husband (who does not get the chance to speak for the entire course of the novel), her son Bert Thorpe and his new girl-friend Jean McLean, the extended Hardy family, who have hired a room after the funeral of the clan’s mother, old Mrs Hardy, and a group of US troops from a nearby base. This is a story notably set in a new world of fifties working-class prosperity. Some of the younger characters, such as Bert Thorpe, work in the thriving successor to Marlowe’s works in Love on the Dole (‘Metropolitan-Electric’s products … found their way all over the world’), making use of its sports facilities and even owning their own expensive racing cycles. Not everyone has enough money for everything they would like, but all the characters have enough surplus to make quite a night of it at the Crown. Indeed, this is a world with resemblances to that of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (with which its representations of fifties working-class life might fruitfully be compared). However, there is considerable reference to the pre-war world, and sometimes in quite specific ways to the world of Love on the Dole. A narrative voice notes that near the Crown is ‘what had once been the pawnshop’:
But the larger part of the shop’s trade in these days of full employment, better pay and other financial advantages of the Welfare state, consisted in the sale of cheap clothing, appallingly ugly and badly-made furniture, radio sets and television receivers all bought and sometimes paid for … ‘on the never never’ (p.14).
There may still be things to criticise, but things are relatively better. Older characters are shown as more aware of the changes in their lifetime, though so too is the one younger character who is interested in politics, the significantly named Sally (Greenwood recycles a few of his favourite names). She refutes the landlord’s casually-expressed view that politics never make any difference saying:
‘You of all people …How many kids do you see running abut now, down-at-heel, shabby and half-starved like many of them were when I left school? …–and nearly four million men on the dole… Look at the children running about now, fine and healthy from vitamins and orange juice when they were babies… these things… had to be fought for. They weren’t just dished out like prizes in a silly TV quiz. (p.46).
It is noticeably now a world where everyone has access to a national culture of radio and TV – Bert dreams that he and Jean’s singing at the pub might be noticed by a talent scout: ‘Somebody from the BBC or commercial TV … their own weekly programme on TV … [Eventually] a film “The Bert and Jean story” … Look at Tommy Steele and the rest’ (p.2).

There are thus some new kinds of working-class dreams (though there is still betting going on in the pub) and if not all are achievable, many seem much more possible than was the case in Hanky Park. If Love on the Dole was an anti-romance or a novel about the impossibility of romance for working people under current economic conditions (‘the tragedy of a lost generation who are denied consummation, in decency, of the natural desires and hopes of youth’, Greenwood had said of Love on the Dole), then Saturday Night at the Crown is a novel dependent on the practical possibilities of romance. It is interested in marriages disrupted by greed (those of the Hardy siblings arguing about their inheritance) or by unequal power (that of Ada and Herbert Thorpe), but also the potential of future relationships based in equality and good economic planning. In the end Bert will have his Jean, Maudie will have her Scottish lorry driver Jock McCall and a jointly-owned transport café, and Sally will have her Harry Boothroyd and the country pub she has bought for him with her savings in place of the urban Crown. There are still things characters have to worry about (including the atom bomb, under-age sex, old age, greedy relatives, snobbery, vanity, dominant wives and skiffle bands), but this seems a world of working–class possibility where decent people can apparently make it. It is surely intended to be read (as various echoes suggest) with a memory of Love on the Dole in mind.

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