Arthur Berry

Arthur Berry

Arthur Berry was an English playwright, poet, teacher and artist, born in Smallthorne, Stoke-on-Trent on February 7, 1925. He died on July 4, 1994.

Berry was the son of a publican and grew up during the Depression. At the age of 14 he enrolled at Burslem School of Art. Despite a rebellious start there, he came under the care of Gordon Mitchell Forsyth (1879-1952), director of art education and a successful pottery designer. Like other of the more talented Burslem students, Berry gained a place at the Royal College of Art [ [ Andrew Casey, "Elegance with Utility, The work of Susie Cooper (1902-1995)"] ] . The College relocated from Kensington to Ambleside during his time there because of the Second World War. ["Bohemians in Exile: The Royal College of Art in Ambleside, 1940-1945" by Leslie Duxbury] Berry, who suffered from agoraphobia, did not find the rural surroundings of Ambleside particularly to his taste.

Berry became an art teacher. He worked in London and Manchester, but as a teacher he is best-known for his long association with Burslem School of Art, where he had studied. Burslem School of Art was absorbed within Stoke-on-Trent College of Art, which in turn became part of North Staffordshire Polytechnic in 1971. Berry was lecturer in painting at the polytechnic until 1985.

His individual creative work became deeply rooted in the culture, people and landscape of the industrial pottery town of Burslem. More latterly he lived with his second wife, Cynthia, in Wolstanton, a district to the north of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

His first play was staged in 1976, followed by others and a remarkable autobiography, "Three and Sevenpence Halfpenny Man". His 1979 work "Lament For The Lost Pubs Of Burslem" was awarded the Sony/Pye Award for the best radio monologue of 1979. It starts with the immortal lines:

:"I sat down and wept when I remembered the lost pubs of Burslem, the demolished Star that stood where the Moonglow Ballroom stands now, on the corner of the street of the Preacher and the Tote office; it was a gaunt, dark building nicknamed the Star of Bethlehem, a grimey stuccoed star the colour of years of wet smoke. From outside it looked forbidding and empty, lit only by one or two naked electric light bulbs; its doors were difficult to find, its main door on the corner of the Square had been screwed down for some reason and on the inside covered with a piece of painted plywood. Only the side-doors would let you in and these were narrow and difficult to open. One was in Queen's Street and the other in William Clowes Street, opposite the Dolphin... for all its dreary appearance, the Star was the highest drinking temple in the town; nothing has been the same since it was knocked down. No pub has been more lamented."

His other works include "Dandelions" (a volume of poems) and "The Little Gold-Mine" a collection of stories about Potteries life.

Berry's paintings - the Lowry of the Potteries?

His paintings are held in numerous private and public collections. He is widely referred to as 'the Lowry of the Potteries'. For example, he was so described in the title of a 2007 exhibition of his work. The comparison was discussed in two related letters to "The Sentinel (Stoke-on-Trent)":

:Arthur Berry... "was a good teacher and focus for art activity at the Burslem & Stoke Art School. I do not agree that he is for many the finest 20th century artist from Stoke - there are other candidates also. Mr Berry's work lies somewhere between painting and drawing - for me paint and its properties hold most attraction. Mr Berry's talent was spread over several areas - drawing, painting, writing, plays, poems and teaching. I do not think I am good enough myself to do several things well, so concentrate on one (painting). Mr Berry said he admired Lowry and once encountered him in a Manchester Gallery - said he was built and made for a particular task - as an artist recording the vanishing industrial scene of Manchester....Mr Berry was, I feel, a humorist whose interest was the people of the old working class of Stoke - a type of person who no longer exists. I mostly liked his landscapes. They seemed to convey that strange Stoke light which appeals to me and the old buildings and streets which were very much part of my own childhood and youth." [ [ Berry Helped me Value my Roots, letter, The Sentinel, 21 February 2007] ]

:"The Arthur Berry exhibition of work at Ford Green compact but conveys the flavour of what the local writer and poet was all about. There is an earthiness and a vitality about much of his work and though abstract painting is not everyone's cup of tea, there is a power about Berry's that is probably best conveyed if you look at the pieces collectively. The Sentinel's article called him the Lowry of the Potteries, though in my opinion, the paintings of Biddulph Moor-born C W Brown, sometimes known as "The Potteries' Primitive", stand comparison. Berry was a fan of Brown, incidentally." [ [ Exhibitions well worth a Visit, letter, The Sentinel, 10 March 2007] ]

More on Berry and his work

, 20 & 27 December 1979, pp.853-5] "and the publican had got a clean collar and tie on, and all the world was ship-shape--this was happiness." "I once saw a pot-woman dance an impromptu fertility dance...the woman sitting with him had knees the size of hams, and drank a case of bottled beer as she sat there." And "then there are the princes of drink, men high in the hierarchy of booze, popes of the tap-room...they manage to live and live with style; to smoke and drink and back horses without ever seeming to concern themselves about money...savour the full richness of the working class who can live without work...I have known such men rear big families on the dole, and strut up the street with a rose in their buttonhole." Then there are the "ordinary men who cannot make ends meet and are under the rule of women...lesser men, who are pestered by women and children, whooping cough and rashes of one sort or another...troubles that reduce an honest man to a worrying machine...all the bellyaching and mither and half-pint scrimping that bogs most men down...the poverty, and the poverty of just being able to make ends meet... [for it is] bosses and women and children [who] pull men down from their dignity." Words and sentiments from what is now a bygone age.

People & Places of Berry's World

In Berry's book "A Three and Sevenpence Halfpenny Man" he tells of his childhood and his daily life at Burslem art school, and of his drawing skills. He tells of going down to London and meeting great artists like Robert MacBryde, and Robert Colquhoun, of perusing pictures in the galleries of the capital and of boozing his way through his student life there at the Royal College of Art in Chelsea. He also tells of his life back in Stoke and his trip abroad with his wife in later years travelling on his own little Grand Tour through Italy and France and into Spain. He recounts these tales with great relish and his usual eye for fine detail. It is a delightful book. His other book of short stories, "The Little Gold Mine" is written in much the same vein but depicts in novel style the people of North Staffordshire and the kind of lives they lived in the 1950s and 60s. It contains some nice pencil sketches of Potteries people and sketches in words of their characters.

Berry describes many people and places in his poems and stories. These include "a dirty-faced child", [Dandelions, 39] a "chinless creature with slack stockings", [39] and "a baby with a big head and a chalk-white face who didn't look as though it was for this world long." [39] All "her ever thinks about is her belly, she would eat a raw monkey if there was any chance." [41] In a long poem, he describes lots of people one might encounter in a dole office: "the wives of unemployed window cleaners, threadbare dandies, part-time tatooists, ex-bin men with double ruptures, alcoholic chefs, addleheads, pinheads, honest clerks, and loud-mouthed shitheads, with hanging trouser arses, flyboys and water-headed idiots led by their mothers, and reasonable men, genuine victims with polished shoes." [44] Also a man who helps poor people make claims: "a master of claims and benefits, a poor man's lawyer in fact", [57] helping "a poverty-stricken illiterate", [57] and "men who have put their hopes on horses - men that have lived beyond their women, and those who were always too ill-shaped to love, and so loved drink...and laughing men, who have boozed their dead wives club money, and those that sleep late and stand waiting for opening time", [58] for "drinking men often die lonely deaths, those who have forsaken women and have died in their camararderie of booze." [64] As opposed to those "dutiful husbands who have faced up to their responsibilities and not drunk every penny they could get their hands on." [64] He describes "an old man in a gate hole spits into the cobbled backs and watches a young woman with a fat behind, pinning washing out, in a pair of slacks." [65] He describes a pub regular called Bernard who "has a small stomach and has difficulty in polishing off a bag of crisps at one go", [67] Love, Berry suggests, "is also often held in silence and sometimes you don't know its been there till it's gone." [86]

His advice about art can be summarised thus: "in painting pictures, accidents can often be fortuitous." [55] In this comment he comes close to Dalí who said "mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them", and Picasso: "I make a lot of mistakes, but so does God."


The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery "admitted to me on a recent visit to the Berry archive how embarrassed they are that they only possess half a dozen of his works". [ [] Peter Morrell websiten.d., accessed August 2008] Many paintings were sold and just as many were lost. Apart from obituaries, it is also embarrassing that the "Hanley Local Studies Library" does not possess any of his plays or radio talks. Much has been lost.For example, Berry describes what a load it was off his mind when he sent several cart-loads of paintings, some large canvases, to the local tip during the 1950s and 60s.

There is an annual "Arthur Berry Fellowship" award for young artists, administered on behalf of his widow Cynthia Berry [ [ BBC - Stoke and Staffordshire Culture] report from 2002 on the award of the Arthur Berry Fellowship to two local artists] .

Berry's works


Mainly performed at the Victoria Theatre, Basford, Stoke-on-Trent,predecessor of the New Vic Theatre which premiered "St George of Scotia Road" in its opening season.

* Olive Goes to Town, a comedy in one act for women [with Deane Baker] , 1958
* The Spanish Dancer from Pinnox Street, 1976
* Wizards All [co-author] , 1977
* Dr Fergo's Last Passion, 1979
* Quiet please, 1981
* Dr Fergo Rides Again, 1982
* The Sweet Bird of Card Street, 1984
* St George of Scotia Road, 1986
* Miss Cardell's School Days, nd
* The Dance of Aberkariu's, nd

For radio

* Homage to the Chip
* Lullaby of Queen Street
* Lament for the Lost Pubs of Burslem, 1979
* Sweet Mystery of life
* In Praise of Backs
* Just a Steady Six
* Happy Family
* Homage to the Oatcake
* The Meatmarket, 1980

For television

* "Half a Smile from Stoke" BBC "Omnibus" production
* "A Three and Sevenpence Halfpenny Man" Central TV "Contact" Series


* Street Corner Ballads ~Arthur Berry, Ironmarket, Paperback, July 30, 1977
* "A Three and Sevenpence Halfpenny Man", Kermase Editions, Paperback, 1984 ISBN 1 870124 00 6
* The Little Gold-Mine, stories, 1991
* Dandelions, poems, 1993


* "Arthur Berry retrospective exhibition: Stoke-on-Trent City Museum and Art Gallery, 17 September-27 October 1984", catalogue, Stoke-on-Trent City Museum and Art Gallery (1984).

* "Arthur Berry". The Gallery, Manchester, 1995.

* "Arthur Berry: twenty-five paintings", School of Art, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, 29th April - 20 May 2005 [ [ Burslem School of Art] Exhibition took place in the centenary year of the School of Art building] .

* "Arthur Berry – the Lowry of the Potteries", Ford Green Hall, Smallthorne, Stoke-on-Trent, 2007:"Local artist, poet and writer Arthur Berry had strong links with Smallthorne and this small display focuses on his paintings, writing and unique sense of humour. It includes a video with footage of the artist speaking about his work" [ [ "Arthur Berry - The Lowry of the Potteries", Stoke City Life, Winter 2006, p.12] This source gives the dates as 5 February – 29 March, but the exhibition appears to have closed a month later, see following item] .

* "Arthur Berry poetry recital", Ford Green Hall 29 April 2007 [ [;jsessionid=b8d57v8a1sOg Arthur Berry's poetry recited at Ford Green Hall] Stoke-on-Trent City Council press release dated 2007-04-26] .


External links

* []
* [ painting by Arthur Berry.] from [ Stone Studios]
* Another two paintings: [ Autumn] [ Portrait]

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