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About the book
  • Published: 29 August 2019
  • ISBN: 9781784740825
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $39.99

Tastes of Honey

The Making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution


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An expert, authoritative biography which brings Delaney's work and times brilliantly to life and re-establishes her position at the heart of British cultural and social history.

The ultimate insight into the ground-breaking, firebrand playwright who changed our cultural and social landscape and put working-class lives centre stage.
On 27 May 1958, A Taste of Honey opened in a small fringe theatre in London. Written by a nineteen-year-old bus driver’s daughter from Salford, the play would blow Britain open and expose a deeply polarised society. It would also make its young author a star.

As Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was telling people they had ‘never had it so good’, A Taste of Honey illuminated the lives of the millions left to languish in Britain’s slums. Delaney’s strong female characters – teenager Jo and her single mother, Helen – asserted that working-class women wanted more than suburban housewifery. The play provoked a barrage of press and political criticism, but was embraced by those whose lives had now been placed centre stage.

This is the story of how a working-class teenager stormed theatreland, and what happened next. Shelagh Delaney’s life and work reveal why women of her generation were provoked to challenge the world they’d grown up in. Exploding old certainties about class, sex and taste, Delaney blazed a new path – redefining what art could be and inspiring a new generation of writers, musicians and artists.


'Anyone who values what is best in British theatre and film will want to join Selina Todd as she digs deep into the brilliance of Delaney’s work – and her character. It’s a riveting book' DAVID HARE

  • Pub date: 29 August 2019
  • ISBN: 9781784740825
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $39.99

About the Author

Selina Todd

Selina Todd is Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. She grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and was educated at Heaton Manor Comprehensive School and the Universities of Warwick and Sussex. She writes about class, inequality, working-class history, feminism and women’s lives in modern Britain. Her book The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910–2010 was a Sunday Times bestseller and was described by the Observer as ‘A book we badly need’. Based on the voices of working-class people themselves, it charted the history of ordinary workers, housewives, children and pensioners over the turbulent twentieth century.

The history she writes is one of anger and defiance, but ultimately of hope for a better future – one that we can build by knowing more about our past.


Praise for Tastes of Honey

“Shelagh Delaney keeps her mystery even from beyond the grave, but anyone who values what is best in British theatre and film will want to join Selina Todd as she digs deep into the brilliance of Delaney’s work – and her character. It’s a riveting book”

David Hare

“Makes an unassailable case for [Delaney's] importance in British theatre history while showing how her posthumous reputation has been subtly slighted... splendid and illuminating'”

Kate Kellaway, Observer

“Not just a terrific study of the life and work of an extraordinary talent but a bracing contextualisation of her in terms of class, culture, sex, youth, politics and the North. Selina Todd’s biography of Delaney is as tough, smart and lively as Shelagh herself”

Stuart Maconie

“This is a sympathetic and perceptive account of a fine writer at a critical moment in our cultural life. Selina Todd’s enthusiasm for her subject is infectious and she captures precisely the spirit of the times. A lovely and enjoyable book”

Ken Loach

“Selina Todd’s biography of Shelagh Delaney, Tastes of Honey, is great”

Tracey Thorn, New Statesman

“[Tastes of Honey] illuminate[s] the life of a woman of blazing talent whose career faltered fatally after her debut”

Celia Brayfield, The Times

“A clever, hopeful and cheering book…shocking and sobering on how working people have forcibly become divorced from the arts”

Megan Nolan, New Statesman

“Selina Todd’s portrait of the artist against the backdrop of her changing times pays a warmly illuminating tribute to Delaney's unique voice… Todd shows in jaw-dropping detail the depth of the hostility to Delaney and her unapologetic work”

Boyd Tonkin, The Arts Desk

“Todd’s sparky evocation of her [Delaney’s] personality has been shaped by posthumous conversations with her friends and daughter… Selina Todd’s excellent new biography is a good place to start”

Michael Todd, Daily Telegraph

“Todd shows how Delaney anticipated the concerns of the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970s, and reveals her continuing influence in the light of similar problems facing working-class women now…fascinating”

J A Hopkin, Prospect

“In this subtle, thoughtful book, Selina Todd sets out to do more than simply retell Delaney’s rags-to-riches story… Instead Todd argues that Delaney offers a route to rethinking the ways in which women’s lives in the mid-20th century are routinely written up, especially by feminists”

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

“Todd presents a warm but balanced view of a woman who made her own choices. Her work benefits from excellent digging in the BBC archives and many detailed interviews”

Jad Adams, Literary Review

“A breezy, readable new biography… Todd’s portrait is enlivened by anecdotes from friends and family… she uses a polyphonic approach…including many examples from other ordinary women’s adjacent experiences”

Holly Williams

“Tastes of Honey is a biography of a writer whose output has – at times – been overshadowed by distorted versions of her story. By carefully emphasizing the radical qualities of Delaney’s oeuvre, and challenging many of the clichés that make up the mythology, Selina Todd offers a more nuanced view”

Anna Coatman, Times Literary Supplement

“I...hugely enjoyed Tastes of Honey, Selina Todd’s heroic attempt to do the impossible and explain the life and work of the mysterious Shelagh Delaney. Alongside Andrea Dunbar, Delaney was our most unexpected and gifted postwar playwright”

David Hare, New Statesman, *Books of the Year*


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