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Arnold Wesker (1932-   )

In 1950, the Jewish working-class playwright Arnold Wesker left London and came to stay with his sister Della in South Norfolk. Once in the county, he gained a job as a kitchen porter at The Bell Hotel on Timber Hill in Norwich.

The Bell Hotel Norwich

Bell Hotel, Norwich

Arnold Wesker

Arnold Wesker

While working at The Bell he met Dusty Bicker who was a chambermaid and the couple fell in love. Dusty became the model for Beatie Bryant - the central character in his Norfolk based play Roots. It was visiting Dusty's parent's farm at Redenhall near Long Stratton that gave him the setting for the play. Roots was part of a trilogy of plays which included Chicken Soap with Barley (1958) and I'm Talking About Jerusalem (1960).

Below is Beatie's monologue - where she describes her meeting with Wesker. The Bell Hotel is fictionalised in the play as the 'Dell Hotel':

'From the first day I went to work as waitress in the Dell Hotel and saw him working in the kitchen I fell in love - and I thought it was easy. I thought everything was easy. I chased him for three months with compliments and presents until I finally give myself to him. He never said he love me nor I didn't care but once he'd taken me he seemed to think he was responsible for me and I told him no different. I'd make him love me I thought. I didn't know much about him except he was different and used to write most of the time. And then he went back to London and I followed him there. I've never moved far from home but I did for him and he felt all the time he couldn't leave me and I didn't tell him no different. And then I got to know more about him. He was interested in all things I never even thought about. About politics and art and all that, and he tried to teach me. He's a socialist and he used to say you couldn't bring socialism to a country by making speeches, but perhaps you could pass it on to someone who was near you.'

Some of Wesker's experience in The Bell Hotel kitchen may also have filtered into The Kitchen - although this was primarily about his time spent at the La Rallye restaurant in Paris.

Wesker is largely remembered for his contribution to the 'kitchen sink' school of English theatre. It was a reaction against middle-class, drawing-room plays and, for the first time, brought working class people to the centre of the stage. John Osborne was another exponent.

Wesker renewed his links with the City with Blood Libel - a play commissioned by the Norwich Playhouse which was premiered in February 1996. It concerns the ritual murder of a 12 year old boy called William of Norwich who died in 1144 and whose body was discovered on Mousehold Heath. William's death, according to Wesker, was the result of anti-Semitism. The play was also a metaphor about religious fanaticism in general.


Arnold Wesker





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