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Clifford (Leonard Clark) Hanley Biography

Clifford Hanley comments:

Pseudonym: Henry Calvin. Nationality: British. Born: Glasgow, Scotland, 1922. Education: Eastbank School, Glasgow. Conscientious objector in World War II. Career: Reporter, Scottish Newspaper Services, Glasgow, 1940-45; sub-editor, Scottish Daily Record, Glasgow, 1945-57; feature writer, TV Guide, Glasgow, 1957-58; director, Glasgow Films Ltd., 1957-63; columnist, Glasgow Evening Citizen, 1958-60; television critic, Spectator, London, 1963. Visiting professor, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, 1979-80. Awards: Oscar award, 1960, for Seawards the Great Ships. Member: Close Theatre Management Committee, Glasgow, 1965-71, Inland Waterways Council, 1967-71, and Scottish Arts Council, 1967-74; vice-president, 1966-73, and president, 1974-77, Scottish PEN; Scottish chairman, Writers Guild of Great Britain, 1968-73. Agent: Curtis Brown, 162-168 Regent Street, London W1R 5TB, England.



Love from Everybody. London, Hutchinson, 1959; as Don't Bother to Knock, London, Digit, 1961.

The Taste of Too Much. London, Hutchinson, 1960.

Nothing But the Best. London, Hutchinson, 1964; as Second Time Round, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1964.

The Hot Month. London, Hutchinson, and Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

The Red-Haired Bitch. London, Hutchinson, and Boston, HoughtonMifflin, 1969.

Prissy. London, Collins, 1978.

Another Street, Another Dance. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1983; NewYork, St. Martin's Press, 1984.

Novels as Henry Calvin

The System. London, Hutchinson, 1962.

It's Different Abroad. London, Hutchinson, and New York, Harper, 1963.

The Italian Gadget. London, Hutchinson, 1966.

The DNA Business. London, Hutchinson, 1967.

A Nice Friendly Town. London, Hutchinson, 1967.

Miranda Must Die. London, Hutchinson, 1968; as Boka Lives, NewYork, Harper 1969.

The Chosen Instrument. London, Hutchinson, 1969.

The Poison Chasers. London, Hutchinson, 1971.

Take Two Popes. London, Hutchinson, 1972.


The Durable Element (produced Dundee, Scotland, 1961).

Saturmacnalia, music by Ian Gourlay (produced Glasgow, 1965).

Oh for an Island, music by Ian Gourlay (produced Glasgow, 1966).

Dick McWhittie, music by Ian Gourlay (produced Glasgow, 1967).

Jack o'the Cudgel (produced Perth, 1969).

Oh Glorious Jubilee, music by Ian Gourlay (produced Leeds, 1970).

The Clyde Moralities (produced Glasgow, 1972).


Seawards the Great Ships, 1960; The Duna Bull, 1972.

Television Plays:

Dear Boss, 1962; Down Memory Lane, 1971; Alas, Poor Derek, 1976.


Rab Ha': The Glasgow Glutton. Glasgow, General District Libraries, 1989.


Dancing in the Streets (autobiography). London, Hutchinson, 1958.

A Skinful of Scotch (travel). London, Hutchinson, and Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1965.

Burns Country: The Travels of Robert Burns. Newport, Isle of Wight, Dixon, 1975.

The Unspeakable Scot. Edinburgh, Blackwood, 1977.

Poems of Ebenezer McIlwham. Edinburgh, Gordon Wright, 1978.

The Biggest Fish in the World (for children). Edinburgh, Chambers, 1979.

A Hypnotic Trance. Edinburgh, BBC Scotland, 1980.

The Scots. Newton Abbot, Devon, David and Charles, and New York, Times, 1980.

Another Street, Another Dance. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1983.

Glasgow: A Celebration. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1984.

The History of Scotland. London, Hamlyn, and New York, Gallery, 1986.

The Sheer Gall, with Willie Gall. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1989.

Gall in a Day's Work, with Willie Gall. Edinburgh, Mainstream, 1989.


(1972) Dancing in the Streets, my first published book, was written at the suggestion of my publisher, who wanted a book about the city of Glasgow. At the time I thought it a rather pedestrian recital of childhood memories and was taken aback by its critical and commercial success (it is still used as background reading in schools of social studies and urbanology). My first novel, Love from Everybody, written previously but published later, was frankly intended as a light entertainment, to make money, and was later filmed as Don't Bother to Knock. Having then retired from journalism, I wrote what I considered my first serious work, The Taste of Too Much, as a study of "ordinary" adolescence, without crime and adventitious excitement, and it may well be my most successful book in the sense of fully achieving the author's original conception. In the subsequent novels under my own name, I think my intention was to look at some areas of life—a businessman's troubles, the family situation, the agonies of work in the theater—simply in my own way, without reference to fashionable literary conceptions. I have often been surprised when people found the novels "funny" because their intention was serious; but an author can't help being what he is. I do see the human condition as tragic (since decay and death are the inevitable end), but I don't distinguish between comedy and tragedy. Funerals can be funny too, and life is noble and absurd at the same time. I also insist on distinguishing between seriousness and solemnity, which are opposite rather than similar. On looking back, I realize that the tone of the novels tends to be affirmation rather than despair. This may be a virtue or a fault, or an irrelevance—a novelist should probably leave such judgments to critics and simply get on wivh what he must do. Maybe they also betray some kind of moral standpoint of which I was unconscious. This was explicit, in fact, in my first professionally produced play, The Durable Element, which was a study of the recurrent urge to crucify prophets. It was also deliberate in The Chosen Instrument, a pseudonymous Henry Calvin ten years later, in which a contemporary thriller mode was used to do a sort of feasibility study on the New Testament mythology. (The intention was so well disguised that no critic noticed it).

But I suppose cheerfulness keeps breaking through. I am an entertainer as well as novelist, and the two may be compatible. My first commandment as a writer is not at all highfalutin. It is Thou Shalt Not Bore. A Skinful of Scotch is an irreverent guide to one man's Scotland and was written for fun. So, originally, were the Henry Calvin thrillers. I enjoy reading thrillers and I adopted the pen-name simply to feel uninhibited. The thriller too is a morality, but the morality is acceptable only if it has character and pace. These are not intellectual mysteries but tales of conflict between good and evil. My later work for the theater was exclusively devoted to calculated entertainment and I am glad that people were actually entertained. I find now that I see life in more somber terms, but whether this will show in future novels is hard to tell. It may even be a temporary condition.

(1991) Self-assessment has always struck me as a futile exercise, in the sense that we can study a bug through a microscope, but we can't study the microscope through itself. I wrote my novels for fun or from internal compulsion (the two are the same, maybe) but have always seen myself as an entertainer, so they were intended for the reader's fun, which could include laughter, fear, enlightenment, puzzlement, and any other response.

They are not bad, probably. I did feel I hit the target with The Taste of Too Much (a committee title I don't like too much) in picturing the pangs of teenage love. School pupils agreed, especially girls, and it seems nothing has changed in 30 years. Nothing But the Best was partly stolen from life, and when I myself was widowed in 1990 I was interested in how my own responses followed those of the hero. Another Street, Another Dance was compulsive. The heroine, Meg, came into my mind fully formed, I was back in the time and place of my autobiographical first book Dancing in the Streets. It went onto the typewriter at the rate of 4, 000 to 7, 000 words a day with no hesitation because Meg was in the room with me. A very strange experience.

The Henry Calvin thrillers were entirely for fun, and I can only hope readers have shared it. (Odd, how many Scottish writers have hidden under pseudonyms). Henry was my father's name, and I picked Calvin because in these light tales virtue would triumph over vice, and to hell with some of the grim realities.

Not sure if I'll produce any more. I am now lazy, and comfortably fixed—a serious disincentive to work. But I am being nagged by an idealistic young New Yorker on a voyage of discovery through working-class and academic Glasgow, and I fear I shall have to let him right into the brain to dictate his misadventures and revelations. He is taking over, and I mildly resent that, but life is real and life is earnest, and the gravy is our goal, still.

* * *

Humor is never far away from the prose writings of Clifford Hanley. Although it is not officially a work of fiction and is based largely on his childhood experiences, his autobiographical study Dancing in the Streets gives the best clue to his literary technique. Partly, its success was due to Hanley's ability to realize the sharp and witty cadences of Glasgow patois; partly, too, it was his by no means dispassionate discovery of objective gaiety in a city in which it is not a common commodity. But the main reason for the book's place as Hanley's seminal work was his ability to work himself and his own comic experiences into a punchy and furiously paced narrative. Thus, when he came to write his first novel, Love from Everybody, he not only confirmed his competence to write with wit and humor about people and places, but he also gave notice that in his future fiction his persona was never going to be far absent from his writing.

This gift is seen to good advantage in The Taste of Too Much, a sensitive study of adolescence clearly based not only on his own experiences in Glasgow but also on his observations of the lives of young people in the city during the late 1950s. (Hanley was then working as a journalist for a Glasgow newspaper). Once again, as in Dancing in the Streets, the central theme is of a clever boy who is about to make good in the world, but in this instance, Peter Haddow, the intelligent and sensitive teenager, has to come face-to-face with a reality that is not always comic. The pinpricks of parental coexistence, an exasperating older sister, a ghoulish younger one, and an outrageous Aunt Sarah make young Peter's life miserable at times, yet shining like a candle in a wicked world is the gleam of his first love for the fabulous Jean Pynne. Although lightly written, The Taste of Too Much perceptively records Peter Haddow's adolescent feelings, and its modern council-estate setting marks it as a precursor of the later Scottish school of proletarian romanticism.

In his subsequent novels it became obvious that although Hanley had not lost his comic touch he was striving too hard to achieve his humorous effects. The Red-Haired Bitch, with its promising plot combining historical romance and modern reality, is superficially treated, Hanley being unable to sustain the historical motif of Mary Queen of Scots and the realpolitik of Glasgow's gangland. An earlier novel, The Hot Month, suffered from similar flaws with Hanley treating the Scots Calvinist ethos in comic fashion before plunging on to an attempt at analysis.

Hanley found his touch again in Another Street, Another Dance which takes a panoramic view of Glasgow from the troubled years of the Depression and Red Clydeside to the events of World War II and the beginning of the end of the city's great industrial supremacy. Much of the action is seen through the eyes of the family of Meg Macrae, a young girl from the western islands of Scotland who has come to terms with the big city and all its associated problems. Through her we come face to face with the reality of spiritual and physical poverty, drunkenness, wretched housing conditions, bad schooling, and furtive sex. Her triumphant ability to rise above those problems and to overcome a series of harrowing domestic disasters without ever losing grasp of her essential femininity gives the book its main theme and provides the backbone to Hanley's narrative, yet it is his sure ear for Glasgow dialogue and his compassion for all of the characters—good and bad—which finally beguile the reader.

Hanley has also written several modest detective novels under the mischievous pseudonym of Henry Calvin; but he is at his most successful when he remains in Glasgow, a city which nourishes his fiction and provides him with a realistic backdrop, and whose people offer unfailingly witty patterns of speech.

—Trevor Royle

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