IN July 1986, two years after JB Priestley’s death, his former secretary visited Bradford, city of his birth and youth.

Rosalie Batten passed the Telegraph & Argus offices on Hall Ings, which she had dealt with frequently, and the Victoria Hotel where a bar was dedicated to Priestley. She passed the Wool Exchange, close to where he’d worked as a junior clerk for Helm and Company; Green Lane School, where his father had been headmaster; and the Alhambra, where JB had relished “the gilt and plush of theatre”. She visited his former homes in Manningham - Mannheim Road, his birthplace, and Saltburn Place, where his writing first flourished, in an attic bedroom.

All the while, Rosalie felt a sense of Priestley’s presence. “I could almost hear his stick, once the property of Dickens, tapping the ground,” she wrote. “If I looked sideways I would see him surely, with tendrils of snowy hair brushing his collar, his pipe at his lips. He would remove it to smile his approval, for I had come to see his place.”

Rosalie worked for Priestley from 1968, at his Warwickshire home, Kissing Tree House, until his death in 1984. She was reserved and modest, he was complex, eccentric, demanding and charming, with a work and social diary that would’ve exhausted a man half his age. The pair became friends, developing a mutual respect. After his death Rosalie wrote a remarkable memoir, chronicling the last years of Priestley’s life, revealing her love for the enigmatic literary great. It remained unpublished for over 30 years, until her daughter, Sophie Fyson, re-discovered it after Rosalie’s death in 2015. Now Priestley at Kissing Tree House has been published by Great Northern Books, along with new editions of Priestley’s novels Angel Pavement, Bright Day, The Good Companions and Lost Empires.

Honest, with flashes of humour, a sparkling eye for detail and touching affection, the memoir is a fascinating insight into his life. Reading it feels as though he is with you in the room.

One of the 20th century’s most popular storytellers, Priestley’s first novel, The Good Companions, came out in 1929. His plays, including Dangerous Corner, An Inspector Calls and When We Are Married, were performed worldwide. Rosalie’s memoir recalls Priestley’s love of theatre...”that began in his youth with the Bradford music halls that crept into his writing repeatedly. The world of Theatre was for him the embodiment of the magic that lay in him. He had only to hear the word for his face to light with interest.”

She also wrote of his sadness and anger at the 1914-18 war, rooted in his time in the trenches. Joining the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment in Halifax probably saved his life. Virtually all his childhood friends, who joined the Bradford Pals, were killed on the Somme and he was forever haunted by their slaughter; “sliced up like sausage meat held above a swill bucket”. “He said a generation with fine ideals and the vigour to carry them out had been lost, the ideals and vigour lost with them,” wrote Rosalie. “It was the generation he had shared youthful dreams with... mown down just as it was about to unfold. He mourned it for the rest of his days.”

During the Second World War his Sunday night radio Postscripts, drawing audiences of 14 million, presented a vision of a better world to come. Telling Rosalie about his first wartime visit to Broadcasting House, he said: “There were steel shutters, sandbags, uniforms and steel hats everywhere. I found I had returned to the dug-out life of the old French line.”

It wasn’t just Rosalie’s gift for writing that enabled her to recount Priestley’s musings. “She had an amazing memory. She recalled entire conversations,” said her daughter, Sophie.

Rosalie met Priestley through a friend. “His previous PA hadn’t lasted. It was one of those serendipitous events that seemed meant to be,” said Sophie. “She’d always admired his writing and was very excited to get the job. She loved being in contact with writes and actors.”

Priestley was scathing of post-war changes to Bradford. Rosalie recalls him returning from a trip, “lamenting the replacing of fine old buildings with glass and concrete, the destruction of character”. But he advised writers to ‘Go back to your roots.’ “His were in Bradford,” she wrote. “The people there were more real than any people would ever be again, his experiences more vivid, for they had nurtured him. There was engraved in his mind a rich store of family scenes, fine buildings, occasions, ideas and the shop in Lumb Lane where he found the window full of ventriloquists dolls and bought one.”

What lingers after reading Rosalie’s memoir is her love for Priestley, and their shared sense of compassion and perception. “I’m very fond of you,” he would say. “I’m fond of you too,” I would mutter stiffly. “Later, when he was very old, I would hold his hand, for an instant. He would reach out to mine as I passed and I would take it, pausing at his side. There is no need for words in such gestures; they are words in themselves and comforting.”

* Priestley at Kissing Tree House: A Memoir, Great Northern Books, £9.99.