Arnold Bennett: Edwardian Superstar

All photos (except film still) copyright Samira Ahmed. No re-use without permission

These are photos taken on location for Arnold of the Five Towns, my Radio 4 documentary about why this hugely popular and successful writer has fallen from fashion and why he still speaks to modern Britain. It’s on Monday 23rd June at 4pm and iplayer for 7 days after. Listen here with links to lots of the places we visited. And I wrote a feature about it for the BBC News website too, which features 5 recommended reads for those new to Arnold Bennett. The Clayhanger trilogy is probably my favourite, but I left it off a list aimed at  newcomers. Apologies in advance for those who disagree.

I conceived the programme as a kind of sequel to I Dressed Ziggy Stardust and it’s also produced by the very talented Alice Bloch. Like David Bowie, Arnold Bennett seemed a man from modest roots who focused on making it in London. He dreamed big, taught himself art and music and literature, and became a superstar through talent and hard work; not connections or birth. I’d like to thank all our interviewees, (including those we sadly couldn’t squeeze into the final 27 and half minute edit) in Stoke-on-Trent and London and especially thank The Arnold Bennett Society and Alex Manisty for their time and advice.  It was my English  teacher at Wimbledon High School, the late Ann Kirman, who put The Old Wives’ Tale on her A-level list of Great English Literature for me in 1984, which 30 years later, inspired this programme. Thankyou Mrs Kirman.

On Robert Elms’ BBC London show on Saturday (listen from 40 min 30 sec) in discussing Bennett’s swinging Edwardian London locations,  I ran out of time to mention Myddleton Square – location of Bennett’s remarkable novel Riceyman Steps. I wanted to mention Ken Titmuss does a guided walk of the area, featuring the location.

Further reading/listening

Alice and I will be on Radio Stoke  discussing the programme at about 1210pm on Monday June 23rd.

In Celebration of the Unknown Arnold Bennett (My BBC News Website feature)

What if…? HG Wells, Arnold Bennett and your alternative future (Big Issue Jan 2014)

Arnold Bennett blogspot – great insights into locations, inspiration and the novels



About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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28 Responses to Arnold Bennett: Edwardian Superstar

  1. When I met my future husband in London in the 1960s, he from the Potteries and me from the East End, I was so surprised that he hadn’t read any of Arnold Bennett’s work whereas my father’s shelves had many of the novels and short stories. When occasionally we went back to the Potteries I asked him to take me round Burslem: I was fond of it.
    ‘Clayhanger’ was my first Bennett novel: I still remember young Edwin’s education, geography being one of his strong points – “He could have drawn a map of the Orinoco, but he could not have found the Trent in a day’s march;”
    I think ‘Riceyman Steps’ is his best London novel.

    Thanks Samira!

    • samiraahmed says:

      What a lovely story. And isn’t it interesting how the question of what education is doing to our children’s awareness of their world was at the heart of Clayhanger? So glad you enjoyed the programme.

  2. Hazel says:

    I’ve just finished reading ‘Riceyman Steps’ which is a great read.

    It’s remarkable in itself with its portrait of three very real characters but it is also a fabulous snapshot of Clerkenwell in 1919. One scene made me smile so much is when the bookshop is vacuumed clean – I wouldn’t have believed it in a modern work set in that period it was that odd.

    One small point – Riceyman Square is not Myddelton Square (which is where the doctor lives) but what is now Granville Square.

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