BBC Radio 7, 21-23 October 2009
Claire Grove's delightful version of Priestley's novel focused on the
experiences of three disparate individuals - Jess Oakroyd (Philip Jackson), Elizabeth Trant (Gemma Churchill), and Inigo Jollifant
(Nicholas Boulton). Oakroyd comes from a tough northern working class family; having been made redundant, he decides to leave
home and set out on the open road down south. Trant has spent thirty years caring for her elderly mother; now she has come
into some money and looks for something else to do. Jollifant, a talented pianist and would-be composer, spends part of his
life rotting away in a tatty private school. Having had a run-in with the owner, he is likewise searching for something new.
By sheer coincidence the three of them encounter a tatty provincial variety theatre troupe known as the Dinky-Doos, and discover
to their delight that they can find their ideal vocation by working with them. Supported by Trant's money, the Dinky-Doos
transform themselves into the Good Companions, who spend their lives criss-crossing the country on the treadmill of weekly
With its roots firmly in the picaresque tradition, The Good Companions recounts
the experiences of disparate people discovering security in the group ethic. The novel exemplifies Priestley's socialist outlook:
the variety troupe are a microcosm of society, in which everyone looks after everybody else. Published at the time of the
Great Depression, the novel suggests that solutions to social problems can be found it people bond together, placing communal
values above self-interest. More significantly, Priestley evokes the now-extinct world of provincial variety, in which performers
frequently endured squalid conditions both on and off the stage, yet nonetheless dedicated themselves to entertaining others.
This world would be viewed two decades later as a metaphor for Britain's decline in John Osborne's The Entertainer
At the same time Priestley is sufficiently realistic to understand that the community
spirit will always be put to the test - especially when some individuals decide to branch out on their own. At the end of
The Good Companions Jollifant, Susie Dean (Helen Longworth) and Jerry Jerningham (Ben Crowe) are catapulted to West
End stardom as lyricist, leading lady and leading man respectively. However the troupe stoically continues to tour, even
if their standard of performance suffers, in a stirring tribute to British stoicism.
Constructed as a series of intertwined autobiographical reminiscences from Oakroyd's,
Trant's and Jollifant's perspectives, this version of The Good Companions showed how the spirit of good fellowship persisted,
even if circumstances changed.