JB Priestley

(13 September 1894 – 14 August 1984)

Born and brought up in in Bradford, John Boynton Priestley was a highly successful and prolific English novelist, playwright, screenwriter, broadcaster and social commentator.

Priestley’s roots in Bradford are reflected in much of his work, notably his first novel The Good Companions published in 1929. He went on to write many well-known plays such as Time and the Conways, Johnson over Jordan, Laburnum Grove, An Inspector Calls, When We Are Married, Eden End, The Linden Tree and The Severed Head. His plays have been translated into many languages, performed all over the world and made into films.

In the 1930s Priestley grew increasingly concerned with social justice. English Journey was his account of this travels through England in the depression years of that period.

Priestley volunteered to serve and was injured in the First World War and during the Second World War, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC, when he drew peak audiences of 16 million; only Churchill was more popular with listeners. In the years after the Second World War, his left-wing beliefs brought him into conflict with the government and influenced the development of the welfare state.

He was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958.

The University of Bradford awarded Priestley the title of honorary Doctor of Letters in 1970, and he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bradford in 1973. JB Priestley refused both a knighthood and a peerage but accepted the Order of Merit in 1977. He died in 1984 and his ashes are buried near Hubberholme in the Yorkshire Dales.

The Priestley Statue

Princes Way, Bradford 1, Bronze figure, granite plinth sculptor- Ian Judd

The larger than life statue depicts Priestley, pipe in hand with his coat flapping behind him, in a typical Bradford breeze.

The statue was commissioned shortly after his death by Bradford Council, it stands in an elevated position, surrounded by a small garden in front of the National Media Museum. It was unveiled on 31 October 1986 by Priestley’s widow, Jacquette Hawkes. The quotation on the plinth is taken from the start of his novel Bright Day published in 1946. It describes an imaginary city called ‘Bruddersford’, but it is recognisably Bradford.

JB Priestley Today

JB Priestley is celebrated in Bradford to this day. He is remembered as a not only a highly successful writer but a man of the people and a progressive thinker with a passionate concern for social justice.

His connections with the city are marked in the name of the J. B. Priestley Library at the University of Bradford. Much of his work is still in print; his plays are often performed; there is a thriving JB Priestley Society and An Inspector Calls is a set text for GCSE students.

However, like many authors of his time, there are some examples in his earlier work of a casual use of racial stereotypes, tropes and racist terminology. Both in describing black people and in his descriptions of people from Ireland. In this way certain aspects of his work present a historical record displaying ideas about race and a use of language we no longer find acceptable in the present day.