Farewell to writer who focused on the rhythms of everyday life

Barry Hines – the writer of the book which became the classic film Kes, who died this week aged 76 – had strong ties to Sheffield, despite generally being linked as a writer with the mining communities around Barnsley.

Hines, who died on Friday after a long spell with Alzheimer’s disease, went to school at Ecclesfield Grammar, and later lived for many years on Fulwood Road, Broomhill, until he and his wife Eleanor decided to move back to his birthplace, Hoyland Common, before his condition set in.

The author, who was a promising schoolboy footballer, adopted Sheffield United as his second team – after Barnsley, naturally.

He taught creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University, and although he soon gave up the role, he continued to use a room in the English Department on Collegiate Crescent as his office.

Aside from A Kestrel for a Knave, Hines’ other best-known work was the script of the TV drama Threads – a chilling depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear strike on Sheffield, watched by millions on its first broadcast in 1984.

The writer’s archive – his notes, unpublished work, letters and other material – came to Sheffield University in 2008. Doctors David Forrest and Sue Vice, from the university’s English Department, are currently working on the first academic book focused on Hines – Barry Hines and Working Class Fiction and Film – to be published next year.

Dr Forrest said it was important that Hines’ work should be read, and studied, long into the future.

“His books, plays and films tell us as much about working-class culture and questions of regional identity now as they did in the 1960s, 70s and 80s,” he said. “Despite the intense locality of Hines’ work, he managed a universal focus on common experiences: school, the workplace, even football,that give his novels, films and television plays an unerring sense of the rhythms and textures of everyday life.

“From this focus on the ordinary comes a poetic sensibility which transforms the mundane, the forgotten and the marginalised into subjects worthy of artistic attention.”

He added: “While Hines is best known for A Kestrel for a Knave and Threads, it’s also important that we reflect on his other lesser known but no less valuable works such as Looks and Smiles, a novel and a film made with Ken Loach in 1981, which captures poetically and tenderly the hopelessness of life on the dole for a young school-leaver in recession-hit Sheffield; The Gamekeeper, his Sheffield-set examination of the labour and the ownership of land; or Billy’s Last Stand, his first work, a philosophically complex critique of enterprise culture which was originally broadcast as a radio play in 1965 before moving to the Royal Court, starring Ian McKellen, in 1970, and finally adapted as a BBC Play for Today in 1971.

“Towards the end of his writing career, novels such The Heart of It and Elvis Over England are notable for the prophetic way in which Hines observed the impacts of de-industrialisation on Northern working-class communities.”

Chief among the themes of Hines’ 30-year career as a writer was education, and the relationship between school and mobility, said Dr Forrest – a concern which stemmed from his childhood experience of grammar school and his own career as a teacher.

“Hines was highly critical of a system which privileged narrowly defined forms of knowledge and which marked young people at a young age, setting them on a limited trajectory.”

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