Delight: Essays By JB Priestley Great Northern Books, £9.99

Here is a delight indeed for the mind and a treat for the heart: a hardback, pocket-sized reprint of JB Priestley’s 1949 book of essays, Delight.

This edition comes from local publisher Great Northern Books with an endorsement from The Spectator’s Paul Johnson.

He writes: “JB Priestley was one of the great authors of the 20th century and a prose writer of great skill and charm. His essays, many of which I published when I was editor of the New Statesman, were in the grand tradition of Hazlitt and Lamb, Chesterton and Belloc.

“I am delighted to hear that Delight is back in print – these wonderful essays are among his finest.”

You’ll find this endorsement on the back of the book, together with a short appreciation by Alan Plater; while inside there is an introduction by JB’s son, Tom.

He says: “Unlike many authors, he did not recycle his life in his fiction or drama; they were works of pure imagination. But then he also wrote a considerable body of non-fiction, essays, articles, criticism and complete books, in which he invariably wrote about himself, his thoughts and feelings, with considerable honesty, and in doing so often echoed the thoughts and feelings of his readers. Delight belongs in this category.”

I’ll say. A few years ago, when I was asked to compile a scene for a show in Centenary Square, I got the Northern Broadsides theatre company’s artistic director Barrie Rutter to read a chunk of JB’s short essay Fountains.

This is what several thousand people heard: “What is the use of our being told that we live in a democracy if we want fountains and have no fountains? Expensive? The cost is trifling compared to that of so many idiotic things we are given and do not want.

“Our towns are crammed with all manner of rubbish that no people in their senses ever asked for, yet where are the fountains?

“By all means let us have a policy of full employment, increased production, no gap between exports and imports, social security, a balanced This and a planned That, but let us also have fountains – more and more fountains – higher and higher fountains – fountains like wine, like blue and green fire, fountains like diamonds – and rainbows in every square.

“Crazy? Probably. But with hot wars and cold wars we have already tried going drearily mad. Why not try going delightfully mad? Why not stop spouting ourselves and let it be done for us by graceful fountains, exquisite fountains, beautiful fountains?”

The book contains another 113 examples of JB’s skill and charm with words. The last is about death, the prospect of shuffling off this world.

“…though often timid as a hare, shrinking from dogs, horses, rough bathing, doubtful aircraft, I do not think I am much afraid of Death. But of course that black velvet curtain of his has to be hanging at the end of the corridor, so that every gleam of delight along there is easier to see”.

What an affirming notion, that the certainty of death is not to be dreaded as a final curtain but seen as a backdrop the better to appreciate the flickering nuances of life.

The shortest piece in the book shows again JB’s ability to take a small, everyday thing and make something of it. This one is about the pleasure of getting the Sunday papers in the country: “And if by lucky chance the papers are brought to the house, then I am as much delighted as if I had been given a fine present, exclaiming in a kind of rapture at the very sight of…”

I am sure he would have said the same about receiving a copy of the T&A.