|The Good Companions|
|Author||J. B. Priestley|
|Publisher||William Heinemann Ltd|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Followed by||Angel Pavement|
Written in 1929 (in Deal, Kent), it focuses on the trials and tribulations of a concert party in England between World War I and World War II. It is arguably Priestley's most famous novel, and the work which established him as a national figure. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was adapted twice into film.
The novel is written in picaresque style, and opens with the middle aged, discontented Jess Oakroyd in the fictional Yorkshire town of Bruddersford. He opts to leave his family and seek adventure "on t'road" (throughout the novel Priestley uses dialect for all non-RP speakers of English). He heads south down the Great North Road.
Intertwined with the story of Oakroyd's travels are those of Elizabeth Trant and Inigo Jollifant, two similarly malcontented individuals. Miss Trant is an upper-middle class spinster and Jollifant is a teacher at a down-at-heel private school. All three ultimately encounter each other when a failing concert troupe ('The Dinky Doos') are disbanding as a result of their manager running off with the takings. The independently wealthy Miss Trant, against the advice of her relatives, decides to refloat the troupe, now known as 'The Good Companions'. Inigo plays piano, Oakroyd is the odd-job man, and other assorted characters including members of the original troupe: including Jimmy Nunn, Jerry Jerningham and Susie Dean, along with Mr Morton Mitcham (a travelling banjo player whom Inigo met earlier on his own odyssey) have various adventures round the shires of middle England.
After a sabotaged performance, the troupe disband: Jerry marries Lady Partlit, a fan; Susie and Inigo become successful and famous in London; Miss Trant gets married; Jess Oakroyd emigrates to Canada and the other performers carry on with their life on the road.
The Good Companions was an instant hit on publication, but was not particularly well regarded by critics. Despite this, it remained popular for over forty years. It then fell out of favour, not only because the novel was written from a (rather old fashioned) middle class perspective but also because it deals with a phenomenon (a travelling music hall troupe) which no longer exists.
Nonetheless, Priestley's ear for dialectical foibles is keen, and many of his constructions (e.g. 'Unkerlathur' for 'Uncle Arthur') are acutely observed. More recently there has been a reappraisal of this and other Priestley works: a new edition of The Good Companions appeared in October 2007 with a foreword by Dame Judi Dench, accompanying a reappraisal of the various versions by Ronald Harwood, Andre Previn and Judy Cornwell amongst others.
Priestley collaborated with Edward Knoblock on a stage version of his novel, which opened at His Majesty's Theatre, London on 14 May 1931. It ran for nine months, with Edward Chapman, Edith Sharpe and John Gielgud in the cast.
A Technicolor remake was directed by J. Lee Thompson for Associated British Picture Corporation, and starred Eric Portman as Oakroyd, Celia Johnson as Miss Trant, Joyce Grenfell as Lady Partlit, Janette Scott as Susie Dean, John Fraser as Inigo Jollifant and Rachel Roberts as Elsie and Effie Longstaff. This version updates the narrative and music to the late fifties (with a score by Laurie Johnson) when touring shows were in decline. It did not emulate the success of the book, and signified the end of the novel's popular success. It came to be typified by the contemporaneous Angry Young Men of British stage and screen as the kind of unrealistic depiction of working class Britain they were struggling to be free of.
On 11 July 1974 a musical adaptation, directed by Braham Murray with a libretto by Ronald Harwood, music by Andre Previn and lyrics by Johnny Mercer (in his last show) opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in London - the same venue of the stage play over forty years earlier (having had its world premiere at the Palace Theatre in Manchester). The cast included John Mills as Oakroyd, Judi Dench as Miss Trant and Marti Webb as Susie Dean. It was revived in 2000 at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco. In October 2001 it was performed at the York Theatre in New York City as part of the York's "Musicals in Mufti" reading series.
A Yorkshire Television series appeared in 1980, adapted by Alan Plater. It starred Jan Francis as Susie Dean and Simon Green as Jerry Jerningham. Music composed by David Fanshawe. Executive Producer - David Cunliffe, Producer - Leonard Lewis, Directors - Leonard Lewis and Bill Hays.
The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School is producing an all new musical version, to be shown at the Bristol Old Vic from 5 November to 21 November 2009. Directed by the school's Artistic Director Sue Wilson, it features a new script and score by Malcolm McKee, Design by Sue Mayes and Choreography by Gail Gordon.