Stan Barstow’s ‘Bright Day’

Filming Joby, 1973 Photograph from TV Times, summer of 1973

“I just selected this,” novelist Stan Barstow told me, as he gave me a well-worn Pan paperback of Bright Day, “as perhaps my all time favourite novel, certainly my favourite of J.B. Priestley’s, but it’s quite a suitable subject for you as it involves ‘disenchantment with the celluloid industry’, and part of it is set in pre-World War I ‘Bruddersford’, so you should be able to get some subject matter locally.

“Also, as it happens, I believe Yorkshire TV are in the process of filming a version of it at the moment, so, if you were stuck for costumes and sets, perhaps they’d oblige.

“Don’t worry about the cover illustration, which is nothing like. The story is so beautifully constructed and flows in such a fascinating way that illustrations seem irrelevant anyway.

“Apologies for biro marks.”

Stan had used the copy when he dramatised Bright Day for a BBC Radio 4 play. He’d met J.B.Priestley and more or less got him to admit the Bright Day was his favourite amongst all his novels.

He gave me this in the 1970s and his reference to me being disenchanted with the celluloid industry probably means that it was after my three or four months’ stint working as assistant background artist on Martin Rosen’s animated version of Watership Down in 1976. With the publication of my first book  looming, I was making efforts to put together a folio to show the range of my work, which for the past few months had consisted entirely of drawings of the interior of Cowslip’s Warren!

I loved Priestley’s description of the first room that the would-be writer in the novel sets up for himself, as I’d recently settled into a similar room, which had to serve as both studio and bedroom, in a shared flat and was enjoying attempting to start making a living from writing and illustration. I liked one of the minor characters in the story, Jock Bamiston, who ‘does nothing of any consequence’ but through it all:

‘remained cool and amused yet friendly, like a well-wisher sent to us from some other and nobler planet’.
I think that sums up the role of the illustrator pretty well: to be an amused observer.

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