• Straight Talking English

Who was J B Priestley?

John Boynton Priestley was an absolute legend.

He grew up in a privileged, Birling-Style household in Bradford in 1894, and served in the First World War in which he was BURIED ALIVE in a trench by a shell going off near him. He narrowly survived and spent months in and out of hospital until his service finished in 1919. He also suffered from the after effects of poison gas, and spent some of his time after he was sent back to France supervising German Prisoners of War.

After the War, he attended Cambridge University and by the time he was thirty he had written two novels. He travelled round the country reporting on the effects of the Great Depression on ordinary people in the middle of unemployment and poverty. He also started what can only described as ‘major beef’ with two other famous novelists who were rude about him, making sure he was controversial.

By the time the Second World War started, he was a broadcaster on the BBC and got sixteen million listeners every week, second only to the Prime Minister. If you want to hear the man himself talking, click here

After the war he started a political party that helped the Labour government get elected, but didn’t like the idea of being in the government himself. He founded the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and became a representative of the UK to UNESCO.

Somehow, he found time to get married three times and described himself as ‘lusty' and as someone who has 'enjoyed the physical relations with the sexes … without the feelings of guilt which seems to disturb some of my distinguished colleagues’, which strikes me as a bit of a humblebrag. He absolutely loved Classical music and kept the London Philharmonic Orchestra funded.

As if that wasn’t enough to convince you he was amazing, he was offered the chance to join the House of Lords and become Sir John Priestley. He turned it down.

When he writes about socialism and ‘fire and blood and anguish’, he really puts his money where his mouth is. He was a Birling, more or less, and lived through the time that ‘a man will learn his lesson’.

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