This episode was recorded in the great city of Liverpool and celebrates the life and work of a great Liverpudlian: George Melly, sometime writer, jazz and blues singer, artist, critic, lecturer and aficionado of surrealism. We are joined by two resident experts: the writer Jeff Young and the playwright and screenwriter, Lizzie Nunnery. The book under discussion is Melly’s Scouse Mouse, which is chronologically the first part of Melly’s memoirs. It was first published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1984 and was the third to be released despite covering the first fourteen years of Melly’s life, painting a vivid portrait of growing up in a middle-class Liverpool family, tinged with eccentricity and theatricality, and his painful experiences at boarding school. Subtitled ‘I Never Got Over It’, it was preceded by Rum, Bum & Concertina, an account of his time in the navy, published in 1977, and Owning It, which covers his years as an aspiring musician in the jazz world of the 1950s, first published in 1965. The final volume, Slowing Down was published in 2005, two years before Melly died. Scouse Mouse was his Melly’s personal favourite of the four: ‘I don’t know why the events of over sixty years ago should be so much clearer than those of yesterday afternoon, but they are.’ He also adopted that ever-useful motto for the memoirist: ‘Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.’ How much this classic childhood memoir helps us understand the outrageous, complex and multi-faceted life of the grown-up George Melly is just one of the things the panel explore. They also revisit his brilliant book on the pop culture of the1960s, Revolt into Style, a book Andy first discussed back on episode 22 on Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family.
We are joined by the writer Andrew Hankinson to discuss Walter Greenwood’s classic novel of Northern working-class life. First published in 1933, Love on the Dole, revolves explores the fortunes of the Hardcastle family, who live in industrial Salford in the 1930s, just as the Depression is beginning to bite. Greenwood’s authentic portrayal of the corrosive effects of mass unemployment and poverty was well received by critics, but it wasn’t until the 1934 stage version had become a hit, that the book became a bestseller. It is estimated that a million people has seen the play by the end of 1935 and the book has remained in print ever since. However, it had to wait until 1941 before being made into a classic film which featured Deborah Kerr in her first starring role. We discuss the books connections to other working-class novels, its wider cultural impact and its influence on the gritty social dramas of the 1960s, the interesting differences between the book and the film adaptation, and we ask why, despite the classic status accorded to Love on the Dole, Greenwood himself and his nine other novels have faded into obscurity.
For this first episode of 2024 we are joined by the chair of Virago Press, Lennie Goodings to discuss a novel by her fellow Canadian, Margaret Laurence. First published in 1964, The Stone Angel is a landmark in modern Canadian fiction. The narrator is the unforgettable Hagar Shipley, a spiky, sharp-tongued, proud and profane ninety-year-old who is trying to resist her family’s attempts to transfer her into a nursing home. This battle is interwoven with memories of her long and difficult life, much of it spent in the Manitoban prairie town of Manawaka, a place closely based on Laurence’s own home town of Neepawa and which would provide the setting for three more novels and a collection of stories. We discuss the book’s place in the Canadian pantheon and speculate on why it hasn’t become and established classic outside Canada (it is no longer in print with Virago). We also discover some unexpected coincidences among Margaret Laurence’s neighbours during the years she lived in England in the late sixties and early seventies. This is a book that deserves to find many more new readers. Also here’s a reminder that if you’d like to sign up to our monthly newsletter which features book recommendations from our guests and as well as the three of us, please click here.
For this year’s Backlisted Christmas Special we are joined by the poet and novelist Clare Pollard and our producer Nicky Birch to discuss not just a book, but adaptations of a book – and there are hundreds to choose from – and all have contributed to making it perhaps the most famous Christmas story of them all: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Written in six weeks in 1843, it was a massive and immediate success, selling out its first run of 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve. It has been in print ever since and has come to define the festive period for millions of readers, listeners and viewers. We explore why and how this fable – terrifying in parts, warm and reassuring in others – has exerted such a hold on our collective imagination. We each pick a favourite version (you’ll have to listen to find out which) but also range over others from Richard Williams’ celebrated 1971 animation to those featuring Mister Magoo and Ebeneezer Blackadder. Plus Andy has compiled a special festive playlist for you to listen to over the mulled wine and marzipan fruits. There never was such an episode! And finally, on this most special of days, we’d like thank you all for your support during the year and to wish you: A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Today’s episode focusses on a single long poem – Briggflatts by the Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting. It was recorded live in St Mary’s Church, Woodstock in Oxfordshire, as part of the Woodstock Poetry Festival. Andy and John are joined by Neil Astley, the founder of Bloodaxe Books, who knew and published Bunting, and Kirsten Norrie, a poet and composer who writes and performs under her Highland name, MacGillivray. The episode begins and ends with recordings made in 1977 of Bunting reading from the poem, which was first published in 1966. Until that time, Bunting, who in the 1930s had been a friend to W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, was living in semi-obscurity in rural Northumbria. It was his live readings of the poem, subtitled ‘An Autobiography’ at the medieval Mordern Tower in Newcastle that transformed his reputation. We discuss his remarkable and sometimes controversial life – before his exile he was at various times a music critic, a sailor, a balloon operator, a wing commander, a military interpreter, a foreign correspondent, and a spy – and its relationship to his work, and particularly Briggflatts, now regarded as one of the greatest English poems of the 20th century.
For our 200th episode, we are joined by Richard Osman: television presenter, longtime Backlisted listener, and one of the bestselling authors in the world today. We discuss Trustee from the Toolroom (1960), the final novel by Nevil Shute Norway, whose other books include A Town Like Alice (1950) and On the Beach (1957), widely read in his lifetime but now somewhat forgotten or ignored. How did Shute’s long and distinguished stint as an aeronautical engineer fit with his parallel career as a prominent and much-loved author? And what do his tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things have to offer us in the 21st century? Richard also shares with John and Andy what he’s been reading this week; and if you’ve been with us from the start, you will appreciate his choices all the more.
In this episode, we feature the life and work of Samuel Beckett, one of the most important and influential voices of 20th century literature. We discuss Beckett’s writing across five decades, including his essays, short stories, novels and plays: ‘Dante… Bruno. Vico… Joyce’; ‘More Pricks Than Kicks’; ‘The Unnamable’; Krapp’s Last Tape’; and the late masterpiece ‘Company’. And we also ruminate on the fact that Backlisted has now been going on (it must go on, it can’t go on, it’ll go on) for eight years, notching up nearly 200 episodes. We hope you enjoy this memorable and moving recording AKA Spool #199. John, Andy and Nicky
Pour yourself a glass of sherry and light a candle, as we dedicate this year’s Halloween special to Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), the first collection by M.R. James, probably the most celebrated and influential exponent of the weird tale. With the help of undead guests Andrew Male and Laura Varnam we illuminate the life and work of a strange and singular author, one whose writings, like the engraving in ‘The Mezzotint’, have truly taken on a life of their own.
This is a new books special episode to fill the gap before we release the Hallowe’en episode next weekend and as part of our episode 200 celebrations. In it, we each select a book we’ve particularly enjoyed over the past year. Andy says The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan (Tyrant Books) is the best novel he’s read since Gwendoline Riley’s My Phantoms and also his favourite; Backlisted Editor, Nicky talks about Wifedom by Anna Funder (Granta), an genre-busting account of the life Eileen Maud Blair, the first wife of George Orwell, linking it back to the themes of The True History of the First Mrs Meredith episode; and John praises Cuddy by Benjamin Myers (Bloomsbury), a rich and formally audacious novel based on the life and legends of St Cuthbert, the patron saint of North East England. The discussion leads us in all kinds of unexpected directions in classic Backlisted fashion.