The Book & the Movie: A Taste of Honey | Shelagh Delaney / Tony Richardson (1961)


A Taste of Honey (1958) is the first play by the British dramatist Shelagh Delaney, written when she was 18. It was initially intended as a novel, but she turned it into a play because she hoped to revitalise British theatre and to address social issues that she felt were not being presented. The play was first produced by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and was premiered at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, a small fringe theatre in London, on 27 May 1958. The play was adapted into an award-winning film of the same title in 1961.

A Taste of Honey is set in Salford in northwestern England in the 1950s. It tells the story of Jo, a seventeen-year-old working class girl, and her mother, Helen, who is presented as crude and sexually indiscriminate.

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Boy: I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice. 
Jo: You’re in a bad way. 
Boy: You bet I am. By seeing you! 
Jo: [as she goes] I love you. 
Boy: Why? Jo: Because you’re daft.”
GEOF: Do you wish he was still here? 
JO: Not really. I think I’ve had enough. I’m sick of love.
The only consolation I can find in your immediate presence is your ultimate absence. (HELEN)
You like everything to be just that little bit out of date, don’t you? (J0)
You need someone to love you while you’re looking for someone to love. (Geoffrey)
Anyway, it’s your life, ruin it your own way. It’s a waste of time interfering with other people, don’t you think so? (HELEN)


A Taste of Honey (1961)
Director: Tony Richardson
Writers: Shelagh Delaney (play)
Stars: Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens
Cinematography: Walter Lassally
Music: John Addison

 Rita Davison working on “A Taste of Honey” (1961) which was shot entirely on location in Manchester, and other areas of Cheshire. Director Tony Richardson is standing on the left.

“I love the life of a film set. Once on a plane I sat next to Alfred Hitchcock, and he told me that because he’d planned everything in his head before he even walked on the set, shooting a film was something of an anticlimax…Perhaps I’m not bright enough to plan everything beforehand. I need to be there, on the set, talking with actors. To me that’s what filming is all about. Come to think of it, I’d probably be at my happiest shooting one of those endless soaps.”

Tony Richardson on his directing style

Audrey Hepburn was first choice for the lead in A Taste of Honey (1961)

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A woman’s got as much right -and more cause – to get drunk than any man
Shelagh Delaney


The play was admired by Morrissey of the band The Smiths, who used Delaney’s photo on the album cover artwork for Louder Than Bombs. A photograph of Shelagh Delaney appears on the cover for The Smiths’ single “Girlfriend in a Coma”. An earlier Smiths song, “This Night Has Opened My Eyes”, is based on the play and includes a paraphrase of Geoffrey’s line to Jo near the end: “The dream has gone but the baby is real.” Morrissey’s lyrics include other borrowings from Delaney including the lines ‘river the colour of lead’ and ‘I’m not happy and I’m not sad’, both of which are spoken by the lead character Jo.
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The Smiths – This Night Has Opened My Eyes

A vocal version of the song, first recorded by Lenny Welch. 

Lenny Welch – A taste of honey (1962)

 The Beatles were also said to be fans, recording their own version of the theme from the film adaptation of A Taste Of Honey.

” A Taste Of Honey was one of my big numbers in Hamburg – a bit of a ballad. It was different, but it used to get requested a lot. We sang close harmonies on the little echo mikes, and we made a fairly good job of it. It used to sound pretty good, actually. “

Paul McCartney

The Beatles – A Taste Of Honey (1963)

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