The Good Companions

The Good Companions is the most celebrated of Priestley’s novels, a 20th century classic of what might be called ‘superior popular fiction’ and winner of The James Tait Black Memorial Prize. It’s long and discursive narrative tells how a stranded concert party, the ‘Dinky Doos’, re-invents itself as ‘The Good Companions’ and eventually achieves success with the help of three itinerant travellers searching for a more fulfilling life : Elizabeth Trant, a personable, young-to-middle-aged spinster with some money to spare; Inigo Jollifant, a likeable young schoolmaster with a talent for writing catchy tunes, who has fled from his stifling, second-rate prep school; and Jess Oakroyd, a joiner from the West Riding of Yorkshire, whose unsympathetic wife and son have made his home life unbearable. Also featured in the story is one of the author’s most loveable characters, the soubrette Susie Dean, with whom Inigo falls in love. Arguably not Priestley’s finest novel but a wonderfully sentimental, life-enhancing story. Yet it has its darker moments, to remind the reader that England in the late 1920s was far from being a place merely for theatrical jollities.

The Good Companions is almost unique in the number and variety of the adaptations that have been made of it. Edward Knoblock and the author himself re-fashioned it for the stage in 1931. It was first filmed in 1932 and then, as a full-blown, Hollywood-style musical, in 1957. There have been no fewer than three stage musicals, by far the most notable being that with a book by Ronald Harwood, music by Andre Previn and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. This opened in London’s West End in 1974 and ran there for 252 performances. In 1980, for Yorkshire Television, the distinguished playwright Alan Plater adapted it in nine episodes, with songs composed by David Fanshawe and lyrics by Plater himself. The most recent BBC radio adaptation came in 2002, and in 2009 BBC Radio 3 broadcast a concert version of the Previn-Mercer version with revised orchestrations by the now celebrated conductor and arranger John Wilson. Around 2001 the late Leeds born writer Keith Waterhouse prepared an adaptation of the novel for the West Yorkshire Playhouse but this has never been staged.

The most recent issue of the novel itself (in a considerably enhanced edition) is that by Great Northern Books, dating from 2007. Both film versions and the 1980 television version are available on DVD. A CD of The Original London Cast of the 1974 musical version is available but only on a limited and expensive basis. Also available on CD is a 6 CD, 7 hours CSA World Classic adaptation, abridged by Sarah Kilgariff and read by Rodney Bewes.

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