John Boynton Priestley, the son of a schoolmaster, was born in Bradford in September 1894, and after schooling he worked for a time in the local wool trade. Following the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Priestley joined the British Army, and was sent to France —in 1915 taking part in the Battle of Loos. After being wounded in 1917 Priestley returned to England for six months; then, after going back to the Western Front he suffered the consequences of a German gas attack, and, treated at Rouen, he was declared unfit for active service and was transferred to the Entertainers Section of the British Army.
When Priestley left the army he studied at Cambridge University, where he completed a degree in Modern History and Political Science. Subsequently he found work as theatre reviewer with the Daily News, and also contributed to the Spectator, the Challenge and Nineteenth Century. His earliest books included The English Comic Characters (1925), The English Novel (1927), and English Humour (1928). His breakthrough came with the immensely popular novel The Good Companions, published in 1929, and Angel Pavement followed in 1930. He emerged, too, as a successful dramatist with such plays as Dangerous Corner (1932), Time and the Conways (1937), When We Are Married (1938) and An Inspector Calls (1947).
The publication of English Journey in 1934 emphasised Priestley's concern for social problems and the welfare of ordinary people.
During the Second World War Priestley became a popular and influential broadcaster with his famous Postscripts that followed the nine o'clock news BBC Radio on Sunday evenings. Starting on 5th June 1940, Priestley built up such a following that after a few months it was estimated that around 40 per cent of the adult population in Britain was listening to the programme.
Some members of the Conservative Party, including Winston Churchill, expressed concern that Priestley might be expressing left-wing views on the programme, and, to his dismay, Priestley was dropped after his talk on 20th October 1940.
After the war Priestley continued his writing, and his work invariably provoked thought, and his views were always expressed in his blunt Yorkshire style.
His prolific output continued right up to his final years, and to the end he remained the great literary all-rounder. His favourite amiong his books was for many years the novel Bright Day, though he later said he had come to prefer The Image Men.
It should not be overlooked that Priestley was an outstanding essayist, and many of his short pieces best capture his passions and his great talent and his mastery of the English language. He set a fine example for any would-be author.
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