Ken Loach leads tributes to Barry Hines, South Yorkshire author who inspired ‘Kes’

Barry Hines, whose novel 'A Kestrel For A Knave' was adapted for classic film 'Kes'.
Barry Hines, whose novel 'A Kestrel For A Knave' was adapted for classic film 'Kes'.
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Author Barry Hines, whose novel A Kestrel For A Knave was adapted for the classic film Kes, has died.

The 76-year-old was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease almost a decade ago.

Poet and radio presenter Ian McMillan announced his death, tweeting on Sunday: “Very sad news: the great writer Barry Hines, creator of Barnsley’s defining myth A Kestrel For A Knave, has died. Rest in peace.”

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Hines was born in 1939 in a small mining village outside Barnsley, and his work put the South Yorkshire town on the cultural map.

He wrote nine novels over a career that spanned almost 50 years, but it was his second book about a young boy who escapes his troubled school life by training a kestrel that brought him to public prominence.

Written in 1968, it was adapted for the highly-acclaimed Ken Loach film Kes, which was ranked seventh in the British Film Institute’s top 10 British films.

Mr Loach has praised the “great humanity” in the writing of Hines.

The two then worked closely together on other films including The Price Of Coal (in two parts, 1970 and 1984), The Gamekeeper (1980), and Looks And Smiles (1981).

Dai Bradley in Kes.

Dai Bradley in Kes.

Explaining why he and producer Tony Garnett had been drawn to work so closely with Hines over the years, Loach said: “His writing, the way he wrote, was very much the way we wanted to make films.

“It was very simple, direct, clear, economical. Funny, sometimes. And with a great warmth, a great humanity.”

Mr Loach, 79, said: “He’s describing a culture that existed at a certain period in time, that no one else has matched. If you want to know what it’s like to live in that part of the world in those years, read Barry Hines and you’ve got it absolutely.

“I think also, his political commitment is very important. He was absolutely aware of the conflict at the heart of society between employers and workers, and he knew which side he was on, and he was a socialist all his life.”

Barry Hines who wrote the book of the film Kes.

Barry Hines who wrote the book of the film Kes.

He added: “In Kestrel For A Knave, which became Kes, the boy Billy Casper had talent that society would not recognise because he was marked down for unskilled manual labour, and that’s what they were determined he should be.”

The two worked closely together, with Hines joining Loach on set.

The director recalled: “When we made the films, Barry would be very actively involved.

“He chose the locations that we wrote about and where we invariably filmed, he’d come along with me when we were casting, we’d sit and meet people together.

“He’d be there at the shoots as much as possible - always a cool, perceptive presence.”

Fans of Hines’s work and fellow authors paid tribute to the writer, with actress Kathy Burke calling him “our generation’s JK (Rowling)”.

Joanne Harris, who wrote the novel Chocolat, said: “RIP, Barry Hines: I hated and loved him at the same time - for writing the world I saw every day, and for giving me hope to escape it ...”, while author Jonathan Coe said he “leaves a great legacy”.

Actor David Morrissey said: “Sad news bout Barry Hines. Loved his writing growing up, Kes, a huge influence on me, but also The Blinder, Looks And Smiles and Price Of Coal. RIP.”

Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, added: “Just seen this. Sad news. Such a brilliant, inspiring talent. RIP Barry Hines”.

Tony Garnett, who produced the film Kes, paid his own tribute to an “old friend”, saying: “Kes writer Barry Hines is dead. I’m sad, thinking of my old friend, a man I loved.”

Journalist and Man And Boy author Tony Parsons added: “RIP the inspirational Barry Hines - who gave us Billy Casper and Kes and his novel A Kestrel For A Knave.”

Born in the village of Hoyland Common, Hines went to Ecclesfield Grammar School in Sheffield where he played football, making the England Grammar Schools team.

He left without any qualifications and joined the National Coal Board as an apprentice mining surveyor.

But a neighbour persuaded him to return to his studies and he eventually trained as a teacher at Loughborough College, teaching PE in London and South Yorkshire, reportedly writing novels in a school library after pupils had gone home.

Among his novels was The Blinder - his first, published in 1966 - about a gifted young footballer, and he also wrote the screenplay for the 1984 TV drama Threads, which imagined the chilling effect of a nuclear attack in Sheffield.

But it is for A Kestrel For A Knave, the moving story about the working-class teenager Billy Casper and his relationship with his pet kestrel, that he will remain best-known and loved.

The book was inspired by the experiences with kestrels as a child of his younger brother Richard, who recently published his own memoir.

Considered a modern classic, it has for years been widely taught in schools as a set text.

Mr McMillan said it had an enormous impact on Yorkshire writers, telling the BBC: “It was our Moby Dick. It taught us that people from around here can write, that the places we live in can be fit places for literature.”

Speaking about his novel to Yorkshire’s On:Magazine four years ago, Mr Hines said: “I think that I painted an accurate picture of what life was like for someone like Billy 40 years ago. Looking back, maybe I was not as sympathetic as I could have been to some of the adult characters ...”

He also spoke of the responsibility he felt to the people of Yorkshire and the areas he so often wrote about, saying: “The main thing for me is to feel that I have represented them well.”


My battle with Alzheimer’s, by Kes author Barry Hines

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