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(Melvin) Barry Hines Biography

Barry Hines comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 1939. Education: Ecclesfield Grammar School, 1950-57; Loughborough College of Education, Leicestershire, 1958-60, 1962-63, teaching certificate. Career: Teacher of physical education in secondary schools in London, 1960-62, Barnsley, 1963-68, and South Yorkshire, 1968-72; Yorkshire Arts Fellow in Creative Writing, University of Sheffield, 1972-74; East Midlands Arts Fellow in Creative Writing, Matlock College of Further Education, Derbyshire, 1975-77; Fellow in Creative Writing, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, 1979; Arts Council Fellow, Sheffield City Polytechnic, 1982-84. Awards: Writers Guild award, for screenplay, 1970; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1989. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1977; Honorary Fellow, Sheffield City Polytechnic, 1985. Agent: Lemon Unna and Durbridge Ltd., 24 Pottery Lane, London W11 4LZ.



The Blinder. London, Joseph, 1966.

A Kestrel for a Knave. London, Joseph, 1968; as Kes, 1974.

First Signs. London, Joseph, 1972.

The Gamekeeper. London, Joseph, 1975.

The Price of Coal. London, Joseph, 1979.

Looks and Smiles. London, Joseph, 1981.

Unfinished Business. London, Joseph, 1983.

The Heart of It. London, Joseph, 1994.

Elvis over England. London and New York, Penguin Putnam, 1999.

Uncollected Short Stories

"First Reserve," in Argosy, 1967.

"Another Jimmy Dance," in Dandelion Clocks, edited by AlfredBradley and Kay Jamieson. London, Joseph, 1978.

"Christmas Afternoon," in The Northern Drift, edited by AlfredBradley. London, Blackie, 1980.


Billy's Last Stand (televised 1970; produced Doncaster, Yorkshire, 1984; London, 1985).

Two Men from Derby (televised 1976; produced London, 1989).Published in Act Two, edited by David Self and Ray Speakman, London, Hutchinson, 1979.

Kes, with Allan Stronach, adaptation of the novel by Hines (producedOldham, Lancashire, 1979). London, Heinemann, 1976.

The Price of Coal (includes Meet the People and Back to Reality)(televised 1977; produced Nottingham 1984). London, Hutchinson, 1979.


Kes, with Ken Loach, 1969; Looks and Smiles, 1981.

Television Plays:

Billy's Last Stand, 1970; Speech Day, 1973; Two Men from Derby, 1976


Critical Studies:

The Silent Majority: A Study of the Working Class in Post-War British Fiction by Nigel Gray, London, Vision Press, and New York, Barnes and Noble, 1973; Fire in Our Hearts by Ronald Paul, Gothenburg, Sweden, Gothenburg Studies in English, 1982; "Miners and the Novel" by Graham Holderness, in The British Working-Class Novel in the Twentieth Century edited by Jeremy Hawthorn, London, Arnold, 1984.

My novels are mainly about working-class life. They are about people who live on council estates or in small terraced houses. The men work in mines and steelworks, the women in underpaid menial jobs—or, increasingly, are on the dole. I feel a strong sense of social injustice on behalf of these people which stems from my own mining background. The hardness and danger of that life (my grandfather was killed down the pit, my father was injured several times) formed my attitudes and made me a socialist.

My political viewpoint is the mainspring of my work. It fuels my energy; which is fine, as long as the characters remain believable and do not degenerate into dummies merely mouthing my own beliefs. However, I would rather risk being didactic than lapsing into blandness—or end up writing novels about writers writing novels. If that happens it will be time to hang up the biro.

My books are all conventional in form. They have a beginning, a middle, and a sort of ending (mainly in that order), with the occasional flashback thrown in. I think, after seven novels, I've now probably exhausted this form and need to explore different ways of telling a story, using some of the more fractured techniques I employ in writing film scripts.

* * *

The setting of all Barry Hines's novels is the working-class community of his native West Riding of Yorkshire. But every new work has dealt with another section or facet of this community, a new experience or dilemma as encountered by a representative, if highly individualized, figure from this class.

The author began his writing career in the wake of the late 1950s and 1960s movement in which a whole generation of northern working-class novelists had come to the fore, imprinting themselves on the map of English literary history through an unblinking representation of their native milieu and its language. Like Alan Sillitoe, Keith Waterhouse, Brendan Behan, or Sid Chaplin, Hines is initially concerned with the problems of young people. Like David Storey's This Sporting Life, Hines's first novel The Blinder considers professional football as an escape route from the working class, and Lenny Hawk is clearly akin to Arthur Seaton or Arthur Machin in his unbounded confidence, ready wit, and aggressiveness, though his gifts—intellectual as well as physical—reach far beyond the football pitch.

However, almost from the outset, certainly from A Kestrel for a Knave onward, Hines has found his own voice. It is not only an angry voice denouncing class prejudice and class privilege, and attacking the shortcomings of the once celebrated affluent society. It has also a cautiously hopeful ring emanating from the creative, defiant, and ultimately invincible qualities which his working-class characters display, often against overwhelming opposition. Thus The Blinder ends with Lenny publicly throwing torn-up sterling notes in the face of the powerful mill owner and football club director Leary who has sought to take revenge on the young soccer star by aiming to destroy his brilliant career through ugly intrigue. And even Billy Casper, despite being more isolated than ever after the violent death of the hawk which he has reared and looked after with the care and devotion that he has never himself received from any human being, will, we feel, somehow carry on unsubdued, a victim but also an Artful Dodger of the ways of the adults.

A Kestrel for a Knave, better known by the title of the acclaimed film adaptation Kes, remains Hines's best-know and bestselling novel to date. It is technically an accomplished work, breaking up the story of a day in the life of an undersized lad from a one-parent family through a series of skillfully interwoven flashbacks. It has a number of memorable scenes (e.g., Billy before the careers officer), some of which have entered textbooks. What they convey is not only a sense of the complete breakdown of communication between adults and the adolescent but also his consequent negative perception of social relations and institutions—the family, school, law, work. Significantly, his one point of succor and fulfillment in an otherwise hostile and crippling environment lies outside society—the hawk, trained but not tamed, embodying strength, pride, and independence.

The author pursues this theme in The Gamekeeper just as the previous novel had developed the school subject from The Blinder. If A Kestrel for a Knave could be read as an affirmation of the Lawrentian opposition between an alienating and degrading urban-industrial world and a fuller, more aware natural life, The Game-keeper demonstrates that the author has either emancipated himself from this view or has never fully endorsed it. For the life of George Purse, who works on a ducal estate rearing and protecting pheasants from predators and poachers alike, is unspectacular and bare of romanticism. It is true that he has chosen this ill-paid job precisely in order to get away from the heat and dust of shiftwork in a steel mill. But the contentment and pride that he finds in his occupation are questioned and subverted by its inherent contradictions: the game is preserved for no other reason than to provide the Duke and his shooting party with the maximum bag; the gamekeeper's family suffers from the isolation imposed by living in a far-off cottage; chasing the poachers implies turning against members of his own class. Gamekeeping may thus be a personal alternative to industrial labor, but this form of living in direct contact with natural processes cannot shed capitalist relations of property and domination.

With The Price of Coal Hines returns to the industrial working class, this time confronting squarely such central issues as the nature of the work underground, the relationship between management and workforce, and the exigencies of an industrial policy to which, despite nationalization, the interests of the men remain firmly subordinated. The miners of this novel—the author has here visibly widened his cast even though he retains a central working-class family—are a singularly class-conscious and humorous breed; the way they poke fun at the absurdly exaggerated preparations for the impending Royal Visit to the colliery shows them drawing upon unfailing sources of resilience.

The militant spirit and satirical perspective of The Price of Coal clearly owe something to the 1972 and 1974 strikes in the industry, which goes to show how close to the thoughts and feelings of ordinary working people Hines has remained over the years, how loyal to his roots and faithful to his socialist humanist creed. The episodic structure of this terse narrative, its revealing juxtaposition of contrasting scenes and parts, and the dominance of dialogue derive in part from cinematographic techniques. The film version of The Price of Coal did, in fact, precede the novel by two years, and it is important to remember that Hines is a television playwright and filmscript writer as well as a novelist. He has been lucky to find a congenial interpreter of his material in the film director Ken Loach, whose documentary realist approach successfully transposed Kes, The Gamekeeper, The Price of Coal, and Looks and Smiles onto the screen, and has thus enabled the author to reach new audiences at home and abroad. In the 1990s, Hines published The Heart of It in Britain, and Elvis over England in both Britain and the United States.

—H. Gustav Klaus

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