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Priestley, J B

John Boynton Priestley was born as ‘John Priestley’ in 1894, choosing later to add ‘Boynton’ to his name. The First World War broke out in 1914, when Priestley was just 20 years old. By this time he had already discovered his love for literature and was a promising young writer with a column in his local newspaper and a number of published political articles under his belt.

However, he set all of this aside and voluntarily joined the army to fight for his country. In 1915, just one year later, he was sent to the front line. Here he experienced the full hell of war, and saw many of his comrades killed. After being seriously injured he was sent home to recover, but when he was well enough he was sent back to the front line in 1917 and survived being gassed by poison gas.

He was 45 when the Second World War broke out in 1939, and he didn’t fight in it. However, he was very politically active throughout the war, and claimed that society needed to change if it was to avoid another war. Priestley is often labelled a ‘socialist’ and he was, indeed, involved in socialist movements and was a founder of CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). However, his feelings were complex and he did not think that socialism was the answer to everything.

J B Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls in 1945, the year that saw the Second World War come to an end. Not surprisingly, the central theme of the play is war. Although the play is written in 1945, it is set in 1912. All the action of the play occurs just two years before the First World War breaks out. By choosing to set the play in this period, J B Priestley can write about the attitudes of a typical upper-middle-class British family in pre-war England, and use them to reflect the broader attitudes of British society.

Priestley died in 1984 at the height of the Cold War, a period of tension between the West and the Soviet Union, when the threat of a nuclear conflict seemed very real, and several hundred female CND supporters were encamped at Greenham Common in protest against the nuclear missiles stored there. His ashes are scattered in a churchyard in Yorkshire, where his family had its roots.
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Priestley was born on 13th September 1894 in Manningham, Bradford.

Mother died

Priestley’s mother died when he was two years old.

Left school

He left Belle Vue Grammar School aged 16 and went to work as a clerk at the wool firm Helm and Co.

Worked as a clerk and started writing

Priestley started writing at night and had some articles published in both local and London newspapers. Yorkshire was a large influence on his work.

Joined the British Army during World War I

On 7th September, he volunteered to join the 10th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Injured in France

He was badly wounded in June and spent months convalescing.

Returned to fight in France

Priestley was commissioned as an officer in the Devonshire Regiment and posted back to France.

University education

After the war, he studied for a degree in Modern History and Politics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

Married first wife, Emily

He married Emily ‘Pat’ Tempest, a Bradford librarian, and they had two daughters.

First wife, Emily, died

Emily died from cancer.

Married second wife, Jane

Priestley married Jane Wyndham-Lewis, and they had two daughters.
1929 and 1930

First literary successes

He achieved his first major successes with his novels The Good Companions (1929) and Angel Pavement (1930).

For more information about these novels see the J B Priestley Society shop


First theatrical success

His first play, Dangerous Corner, was extremely popular in the West End.

First television broadcast of a live play

His play When We Are Married was the first play to be broadcast live on television from a theatre.

Read four other ‘Fascinating Facts’ about J B Priestley


Wartime broadcasting

Priestley broadcast a BBC programme called Postscript, which was cancelled after some members of the government thought his views were too socialist.

Co-founded the Common Wealth Party

Priestley was a co-founder of the socialist Common Wealth Party.

Read more about Priestley’s political views


An Inspector Calls first performed

The play was first put on in Russia and wasn’t performed in the UK until the following year.

Married third wife, Jacquetta

He divorced Jane and married archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes.

Co-founded CND

Priestley was a founding member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Honoured by Bradford

He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bradford.

Honoured by Bradford University

The library at the University of Bradford was named J B Priestley Library.


Priestley died of pneumonia on 14th August 1984. His ashes were buried in his native Yorkshire, in Hubberholme Churchyard, Wharfedale.

Statue presented to Bradford

A statue of Priestley was unveiled in Bradford.

See a picture of it here