Novel by war victim inspires new play

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THE story of a soldier-author from Hull who never made it home after the end of the Second World War has been turned into a new play, which will go on a national tour next year.

Private Dan Billany, who was born to a poor family off Hessle Road and became a best-selling author in Britain and the US, disappeared after being liberated from an Italian prisoner-of-war camp.

One of his most famous works, The Cage, which he co-wrote with his friend David Dowie in the camp, has now inspired playwright Peter Spafford to write a play of the same name. Pte Billany fell passionately in love with his friend, but it was unrequited.

The men left the notebooks in the safekeeping of a farmer. They were sent home – but there is still a mystery over what became of the men.

Theatre company Fifty6 Ninety6 is staging a reading at the Junction Theatre in Goole on November 9 and at the Friends Meeting House in Leeds on November 11. Next year, the centenary of Billany’s birth, they hope to tour the production in Yorkshire and take it to the Imperial War Museum in London, where the original manuscripts are held.

Mr Spafford said: “It was the quality of the writing that got me going, it sounded so modern. It is funny, apart from anything else it prefigures The Goons.

“Events took over, Mussolini fell from power, the Germans were advancing and they just wanted to safeguard the books and give them to a farmer in trust that he would send them home. There are various stories about what happened; in the play we play with the different possible alternative endings, but no one really knows.”

Mr Spafford added: “Dan didn’t know how to be open about it. One of the last things he wrote was: ‘I am going to get married, I don’t want to be on my own.’ The Cage is about being in a prisoner of war camp but it also about the cage we are all in, of the preconceptions we have about things.”