Alan Sillitoe, king of the kitchen sink drama, dies aged 82

BRITISH novelist Alan Sillitoe, one of the "angry young men" of British fiction who emerged in the 1950s, has died. He was 82.

The author of 53 works – including novels, short stories, plays, children's fiction, poetry, travel books, drama, memoirs and criticism –died at Charing Cross Hospital in London yesterday.

His son David said he hoped his father would be remembered for his contribution to literature.

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Friends from the literary world paid tribute last night to Sillitoe, whose Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner chronicled the bleak postwar realities of the country's poor.

Poet Ian McMillan described him as a "marvellous prose stylist" whose work had a "kind of Midlands sonority to it".

He said: "He was a man who attempted to capture the majesty and drama of ordinary life. He wrote this great line which said, 'the art of writing is to explain the complications of the human soul with the simplicity that can be universally understood' and I think that's what he achieved."

He added that Sillitoe rejected the celebrity life and all he wanted to do "was sit in his house in London and write and write and write".

Born in 1928 in Nottingham, Sillitoe left school at the age of 14 and worked in a bicycle factory. He later served as a wireless operator in the Royal Air Force, including in British-controlled Malaya, now Malaysia.

Sillitoe was acclaimed for his uncompromising social criticism and depiction of domestic tensions – often dubbed kitchen sink dramas.

His breakthrough came with the publication of the novel Saturday Night And Sunday Morning in 1958.

It was made into a film, starring Albert Finney, as was his next novel The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner which featured Tom Courtney in the lead role. Sillitoe also published several volumes of poetry, children's books and plays.

Recalling his own modest upbringing in Nottingham, in England's Midlands, Sillitoe once recalled the smells of "leaking gas, stale fat, and layers of mouldering wallpaper".

In 2008, the author was bestowed with the freedom of Nottingham – an ancient ceremonial honour that allows recipients to drive sheep through the centre of the city.

He had been due to join other recipients at an event to celebrate the city earlier this month, but was forced to withdraw because of illness.

Sillitoe lived briefly overseas with Ruth Fainlight, the American poet he married in 1959, but later returned to Britain.

In 2007, Sillitoe published Gadfly In Russia, an account of four decades of travel through Russia.

Always an atheist, he nonetheless developed during the 1960s a deep interest in the lore and history of Judaism, and the only book in his possession to date from his childhood years was the King James Bible, and he read the Old Testament voraciously. He became a regular visitor to Israel from the 1970s onwards.

Sillitoe is survived by his wife and their children David and Susan.

• Obituary: Alan Sillitoe