v 6.30.00
28 Jan 2022
updated 28 Jan 2022

Beastly Priestley

Many years later, though, another reminiscence was forthcoming ...

The essayist, novelist, playwright, political thinker and broadcaster J B Priestley (13 Sep 1894 – 14 Aug 1984) is scarcely remembered these days, but in his prime was regarded as a major literary figure, and (though he would have scoffed at the phrase) a national treasure. He was born in Bradford, probably the best start in life a man can have, and was throughout his life the voice of Northern sanity and common sense.


During the Second World War, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC. The Postscript, broadcast on Sunday night through 1940 and again in 1941, drew peak audiences of 16 million; only Churchill was more popular with listeners. Graham Greene wrote that Priestley "became in the months after Dunkirk a leader second only in importance to Mr Churchill. And he gave us what our other leaders have always failed to give us – an ideology."

Although his broadcasts were eventually discontinued, allegedly (but improbably) by order of Churchill, Priestley continued to be much in demand as an inspirational speaker in factories and civic centres the length and breadth of Britain, enthusing workers and the general populace in their heroic war-efforts.

And so, one fine day in the early 1940's, he arrived at a particular railway station, doubtless to be met by a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, and conducted to one of Alan Good's factories, to be warmly embraced (metaphorically) by APG himself and ushered into a reception in the Admin area for liquid hospitality, followed by lunch in the Directors' dining room, as a preliminary to addressing the massed workforce later in the afternoon.

To Priestley's right at the lunch(eon) table would have been APG, and on his left was Kathleen Blunt, APG's personal secretary, to whom he would have been introduced whilst the drinks were circulating beforehand.

In one of his essays, Priestley remarks, innocently enough, perhaps, at the time,

'I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.'

Well, on this occasion, he evidently thought it was definitely time for a bit of magic. As Katie decided to reveal (when well into her eighties), the soup had hardly been served, when she felt something questing beneath the tablecloth, then coming to rest decisively on her right thigh. After a slight hesitation she pushed it away, but back it came, higher up. She pushed harder and wriggled away, but to no avail – back came the hand, reaching further over. Priestley became ever bolder as the meal progressed, as of course she didn't dare protest aloud.

With the end of the meal, the furtive fumbling had to desist, and everybody started to head for the factory floor where Priestley was to deliver his morale-boosting speech. APG looked at her with kindly concern. "You're looking rather pale, Miss Blunt", he said. "And you hardly ate any lunch!"

But she pleaded a slight headache.

No #MeToo in those days.