Working class boy makes good, whilst struggling with his emotional development, could be a good way of describing the novels written by Stan Barstow about Vic Brown. The three books in the trilogy are A Kind of Loving (1960), The Watchers on the Shore (1966), and The Right True End (1976).
Vic was the child of working-class parents from south Yorkshire. His father was a coal miner and his mother a housewife. The books, set in the period from the late 1950’s until the early 1970’s, portray a period of change and social mobility. Both Vic and his elder sister and younger brother move on from their working class roots and into professional careers.
But society is changing in other ways too. As well as charting Vic’s developing career, the books deal with larger themes such as marriage, divorce and the disruption of old ways of life. The risks and certainties of Vic’s parents’ lives are replaced by new risks and greater uncertainty. It’s not all plain sailing for Vic, and in many ways he is a confused and conflicted person.
It is probably safe to say that these books could not be written nowadays. The books were very ‘modern’ for their time, but they portray a society in a period of change, and it’s one we’d struggle to recognise today. Today, some things have improved – attitudes to marriage and divorce, for example – but in some ways things are worse. Some studies have shown that social mobility is slowing and there are fewer opportunities for young people. Vic’s development from draughtsman to graduate engineer would be less typical nowadays.
The books aren’t all about work though, and there’s plenty of drama in them. Stan Barstow, himself the son of a miner, is often grouped together with other authors such as Keith Waterhouse and Alan Sillitoe. It’s not entirely accurate, but their books can be described as ‘gritty’ and ‘northern.’ The books are very realistic in their portrayal of life in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and Barstow’s skill is in dramatising the ordinary.
I found the books fascinating. Not only was I caught up in the drama of the stories, but they portrayed the kind of society I was born into and can remember. The photograph I’ve selected as the featured image this week is of my father and some of his work colleagues. Dad was an engineer and his working world was similar to Vic Brown’s in many respects. They also brought to mind my Uncle, Mum’s brother. Mum and Uncle Jeff came from a working class background and, in some ways, Jeff’s life and career was similar to Vic Brown’s . Vic and Jeff would have been roughly the same age too, and this adds to the relevance of the books to my family’s history.
The books are well worth a read if you can get hold of the used copies. As well as bringing back many memories of the past, reading them makes you realise how much society has changed over the last 60 years.