The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

I saw ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ many years ago – probably soon after in first came out in 1962, was very taken by it and therefore looked forward to the re-showing and discussion on the BBC. Kirsty Wark, one of the moderators of Newsnight, had set up a panel composed of people involved in the production along with the writer, Alan Silltoe, to discuss the film they made some 40 years back. The film came out of a new trend in cinema, very much influenced by French new wave directors like Goddard and Truffaut who were trying to make cinema more vital and more of a vehicle to discuss contemporary social issues. Tony Richardson, who directed and produced the film, worked with a team who were in tune with this idea and they produced a series of films like ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, ‘A Taste of Honey’ and ‘Loneliness’, all of which dealt with issues of class and region, unlike the very mannered British films of before. Sillitoe, a working-class writer from Newcastle, was one of the bards who came out of those changing times and whose work fit right in to the new trends. Listening to the crew speak about the making of the film, I was struck by how committed they were to the idea of political media which didn’t degrade the art. They worked as a team under Richardson who, it seems, gave them the freedom to develop without imposing strict rules or regimens – though he had very firm structural concepts the others clearly deferred to. Silltoe, who lived in France and Spain after the war, was interesting to hear. I hadn’t seen him before and was a bit surprised at his appearance. A rather mild and meek looking man, he seems a gentle character and quite distant from that brutalised culture he portrays (which now seems almost innocent compared to the brashness of today).

1 December 2002