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Beyond The Footlights
on 2 July 2012
This reissue, by Great Northern Books, of what is arguably J B Priestley's finest novel is a reminder of the deep feeling the author had for the period just before the First World War and for the music halls and variety theatres which flourished at that time. The story concerns Richard Herncastle, a young man from the West Riding of Yorkshire who aspires to be a painter. Trapped in a dull office job and with both of his parents dead he accepts an offer from his uncle, Nick Ollanton, to join the latter's touring theatrical troupe. He has many experiences both on and off the stage before the outbreak of war puts paid to his life in the theatre. Priestley creates a richly-detailed narrative that only The Good Companions rivals in the author's fiction. But compared with the earlier novel this is much darker in tone : raw sexuality, violence, murder, suicide, moral corruption and even the perversion of the cause of justice are all present before, against the background of a terrible war, true love triumphs between Herncastle and a young dancer and singer Nancy Ellis. This edition, which is issued in both hardback and paperback, benefits from appropriate and valuable introductory contributions from Barry Cryer, Roy Hudd and Priestley's son, Tom Priestley. There is also a brief reminiscence from John Castle, who memorably played the misanthropic Ollanton in the sumptuous and faithful 1986 Granada Television version of the novel. This is available on a 3-disc DVD box set and can be warmly recommended.