City Grammar - Joyce Holliday - Obituary
2002 February 04 Joyce Holliday - Obituary

Joyce Holliday, writer and teacher: born Sheffield 13 July 1932; married 1955 Peter Cheeseman (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1985), 1987 Roy Fisher; died Bakewell, Derbyshire 4 February 2002.

In 1991 Joyce Holliday wrote Go See Fanny Deakin!, a play for the north Staffordshire mining community of Silverdale, and the culmination of four years' local research and collaborative work. Tumultuously performed by a cast of 80, the play, if not exactly its Communist Alderman heroine, personified her: warm, energetic, democratic, activist, inventive. Her 40 years of theatre work was dominated by an unquenchable commitment to the importance of the local, to lives marked by work and an  accent as well as great events.

She was born in 1932 in Sheffield, the daughter of a foreman joiner, Arthur Holliday, and his wife Grace, and educated at Sheffield Grammar School and Sheffield University, from which she graduated in English in 1953. In 1955 she married the theatre director Peter Cheeseman and after the birth of their first daughter, Kate, in 1961, settled in north Staffordshire: the area that was her home ever since.

Cheeseman had become founding director of the Victoria Theatre in Stoke in 1962, a theatre-in-the-round whose various, vivid, immediate style, but especially its innovative stage documentaries on local subjects, became a beacon for the regional theatre. In the succeeding years most of Holliday's work was for the Vic, notably her highly successful adaptations of Arnold Bennett. The first, Clayhanger, was produced (along with her second daughter, Betsy) in 1967. Anna of the Five Towns, which also went into radio and television versions, followed in 1969; The Old Wives' Tale in 1971, and The Card in 1973. For those of us going to the Vic in those first 10 years Cheeseman and Holliday were putting our history and culture before us.
Not all of her work was there, nor for the theatre.  She wrote for other spaces, served West Midlands Arts, taught drama and began a Creative Writing Project for the elderly on the local Bentilee estate. Significantly for how her work was to develop, between 1977 and 1979 she made a total of 24 half-hour programmes for BBC Radio Stoke on the local mining industry, and on north Staffordshire during the First World War (her father had served, under-age, in the BEF) all of which were based on recorded interviews.

She worked increasingly from recorded reminiscence, and tutored WEA courses through the 1980s not only in Creative Writing but in Oral History.  She was part of an informal movement paying renewed attention to region and to working lives. Cheeseman's The Staffordshire Rebels and The Knotty were emulated across regional theatre and in television, whilst the History Workshop's non-professional scholarship groups examined "history from below".  Perhaps, especially after 1979, this was driven by a nagging sense that something here was passing away.

But Joyce Holliday's work was not given to elegy.  Her activist imagination took an increasingly feminist slant in the Eighties. Working with the director Kate Crutchley she devised The Women's Story for the Vic in 1979, perhaps tacitly suggesting that north Staffordshire had heard enough about Josiah & Son. Mothering, a "feminist soap-opera" for Channel 4 followed in 1984, and in 1985 two documentary plays, What Did You Do in the War Mummy? and Anywhere to Anywhere,  were both based on oral record.  Anywhere developed out of Holliday's research into women aircrew in the Second World War,  and was provoked by the entertaining row set off by the revelation that the Spitfire preserved locally to celebrate its designer,  north Staffordshire's own Reginald Mitchell, was piloted by a female dummy.

In 1987 Holliday took her accumulated talent and knowledge home to make a documentary play about the Sheffield Blitz. It's a Bit Lively Outside was directed by Stephen Daldry and Clare Venables for the Crucible and was accompanied by a book of the same title. In the same year,  her marriage to Cheeseman having ended in 1985, she married the poet Roy Fisher.  Were she not so much her own woman it might be possible to catch the timbre of Fisher-laconic in that title.  An amateur revival of the play opened the day she died.

The last 11 years of her life were marked by breast cancer.  But not consumed.  Besides Fanny Deakin, she contributed to a radio drama series, a revival of The Card, directed by Cheeseman for the New Vic,  and especially to local-history work and yet another community play,  Flash Friendly,  in the Staffordshire Moorlands where she and Fisher made their home.

One can imagine the recurrent question "Where?" greeting an  account of Joyce Holliday's work.  But she knew that nowhere is "nowhere",  and,  like the 1640's radical,  that "the poorest he in England has a life to live".  She added "she" and strove to tell those lives.

Jeffrey Wainwright.

February 4,  2002

I've had the Card for Five days,
- But cannot find, the words to write
For now, you may not even
Count me, as a friend.
And you were always,
Streets ahead of me,
In intelligence, confidence, and beauty.

But I, remember  you
- The way your eyebrows, fanned-out.
In the corner, above your wide, blue eyes,
Before flowing to cover,
 That fair, strong, level brow!
 You were above me, in height - and status
I, Assistant, to your - Head Girl!

Your eyes, seemed already
To look ahead, in confidence,
To a place in life,
That was waiting, for you.
- Whilst I, with little self-knowledge,
Wished almost, never to leave this Family,
- Called the "Sheffield City Grammar School"

Over the years, I'd heard small echoes of you!
- A Play you’d adapted-, for "Radio Four"
Your  work with the  Stoke Theatre Company",
The Play, commissioned by "The Crucible", in 1985 –
"It's a Bit Lively Outside!”
- About the Sheffield Blitz!
- And hoped, mostly in awe, to meet you once more!

Now, it seems,
I may never see you again,
In this life!
Yet, you are just as alive, for me,
As you ever were –
Still the person I loved,
And admired, all those years ago.

I cannot say - "Goodbye",
Just "Au Revoir”.
I'm sad to think, your Writing Time,
Seems to be over,
And in some ways, I've just begun.
- Now’t t'er do then, Joyce,
- But, t‘ pick - up – mi’ pen, an' Carry On!

Copywright for Jean Wright    4/2/02

Joyce is lovingly remembered by her former school friends :-
George Beeley
Peter Bratt
June Collette (nee Genn)
Peter Hoddinott
Brian Holmes
Shirley Sansome (nee Mills)
Jean Wright
Mike Bunting