Sign up for our fortnightly newsletter

Literature Review: Time at the Bar

7 June 16 words: James Walker
"If you haven't read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, f*ck off to Derby and never come back"

In 1958 a right moody get called Arthur Seaton stropped onto the pages of a novel written by Alan Sillitoe and the world changed forever. Hating your boss, getting hammered at the weekend, and getting it on with anyone you could get your crafty arms around became a rite of passage.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning would become the first Pan paperback to sell a million copies. When Karel Reisz adaptated the novel for the screen in 1960, Albert Finney would become the posterboy for gobbiness, and consequently the world would think everyone from Notts spoke with a wonky Lancashire accent. Amen.

NEAT16 are the latest lot to pay homage to Sillitoe’s cutting portrayal of defiant individualism though a literary pub crawl with readings at key locations mentioned in the book. Given that the novel names 23 pubs, this was a far more civilised affair, taking in Langtrys (which was the Pear Tree up until 1981), the Malt Cross (with a free goz around the caves which would usually set you back for £3) and the Bell, before finishing back off at the Playhouse, where Ian McKellen played a young Arthur back in 1963.

alt text


Tonight Arthur was played by David Beckford, an Ilkeston lad who was cast in the D.H Lawrence play The Fight for Barbara a few days earlier. Perhaps wisely, Beckford made it clear from the beginning he wouldn’t be in role all night and instead the evening would consist of readings, quizzes and informal conversations which, inevitably, would become more vocal as the night progressed.

I’ve read Sillitoe’s debut novel at least five times. In 2013 I reduced the novel to five key themes in the Sillitoe Trail, a commission for the inaugural round of BBC/Arts Council England’s multimedia platform The Space, but despite this, every time I hear a reading it’s like having a fresh smack in the face. Nobody since has captured the rawness of working class life quite like Sillitoe and nobody ever will again, because it’s a novel of its time. And this is why evenings like this are so much fun: they’re nostalgic and a testament to how much life has changed.

But what I found most surprising tonight was that out of the paying punters, only two people had read the novel. A couple of these hadn’t even seen the film! Let me state this quite clearly: if you haven’t read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, fuck off to Derby and never come back. This is a novel that you have to read if you live in Nottingham. It's as natural as thanking a bus driver when you get off a bus. There should be a badge for reading it, like you get at school when you do your first five meters. 

I pity the fool who hasn’t read this book. They're aliens. And then I feel complete envy; that one day they'll experience the joy of it for the first time. After the two hour walk around town we sat down and chatted about why the book is important, why you have to read it, and why as loveable as Seaton is, you wouldn’t ever want to meet him in real life. Especially if you're out with the missus. 

Can you think of any other literature event where people would stump up £15 to hear readings from a book they've never read? Exactly. That's how important Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is to Notts folk. Even on a Monday night. 

This performance is perfect for people who want to have a few beers and mither on about everything that’s gone wrong over the past 58 years and how there aren't any rebels anymore. It’s perhaps not as suitable for people who want to trace Seaton across Sillitoe’s novels and discuss him in his latter years in Birthday or as the inevitable product of a tough hereditary line outlined in Sillitoe’s best (and most underrated novel) A Man of His Time. Either way, instead of going to bed with a couple of sisters, the only thing in my hand now is a laptop. So excuse any typos as I’ve had a skinful. I’ll save the pillow for my deviance.  

Time at the Bar runs from 6-8 June, Tickets are £15 which includes one free drink and a tour of the Malt Cross caves. It was performed as part of the NEAT16 festival.