Rebel without a Cause: Exploring Arthur Seaton’s Nottingham at Lakeside Arts Centre

There’s something about Arthur Seaton, the rebellious anti-hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that has endured through the decades. Sat at his lathe in Radford’s Raleigh bike factory, he counted down the hours until it was the weekend, working hard only to ensure he had plenty of cash to spend on booze and smart Teddy Boy clothes.

Nottingham, like many other industrial cities in the 1950s, was on the brink of a seismic social change. Following the austerity of the war years, there was a surge in demand for consumer goods (like bikes) and teenagers leaving school with no qualifications could look forward secure employment with Raleigh or the nearby Player’s cigarette factory – something that would be almost impossible for a young person today.

It was also the decade when the first signs of a youth culture were beginning to emerge. Arthur did not want to settle down to start a family at his age and he describes his own parents as ‘dead from the neck up’. He wants to dance, drink and have affairs with married women rather than take on responsibility.

Arthur’s world is explored in a new photographic exhibition which opened at Nottingham University’s Lakeside Arts Centre at the weekend. This thoughtfully curated exhibition combines commercial photography with journalism and social commentary as well as stills from Karel Reisz’s film adaptation of Sillitoe’s novel, much of which was shot in Nottingham.

We are given a glimpse into what life was like in the Raleigh factory, along with recorded personal testimonies from the people who worked there. The long, tedious hours spent at the machine were punctuated by raucous nights in the pub, day trips to Skegness organised by the company and the excitement of the annual Goose Fair.

During the 1950s, Nottingham’s hard-drinking culture attracted national attention – just like it does today. Two journalists from the Daily Herald were asked by their editor to visit Nottingham and find out about the nightlife that inspired Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and some of their photographs form part of this exhibition.

Neither the book nor the film makes any attempt to sentimentalise working class life in urban Nottingham. The warren-like slums of St Ann’s, Radford and Lenton were over-crowded and rife with gossip. Towards the end of this exhibition there are images depicting these houses being cleared to make way for new developments outside the city, notably the Clifton estate and were seen by many, including the residents, as heralding a new era of clean housing with indoor bathrooms and large, open spaces.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which is free, runs until 10th February. For details, including opening times, see the website.

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