Tom Hadaway 1923 – 2005

Archie Potts

On 18 March 2018, which would have been playwright Tom Hadaway’s 95th birthday, actor Tim Healy unveiled a blue plaque on the outside wall of his birthplace at 6 Howdon Road, North Shields. The unveiling ceremony was held on a bitterly cold day and attended by the Mayor of North Tyneside, Norma Redfern, and a large gathering of Tom Hadaway’s relatives and friends.

In a short address, Tim Healy told the crowd that the playwright had been his ‘mentor and friend’ who had ‘opened doors’ for working class actors such as himself. Tom’s plays, mainly on local themes, had provided good parts for local actors who had gone on to achieve national recognition.

Tom was born on 18 March 1923. Orphaned at an early age he was brought up by an aunt and then by foster parents, spending part of his teenage years living on the tough Ridges Estate in North Shields (renamed the Meadow Well in 1968). He was educated at Ralph Gardner School, which he left at fourteen years of age to start work on the Fish Quay in North Shields. During the Second World War he served as a petty officer in the Royal Navy. His future wife, Barbara, served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and was on the secretarial staff of the code-breaking unit at Bletchley Park. As a member of the ‘Ultra’ team she was sworn to secrecy about her work and never discussed it.

Tom began writing when in his forties, publishing his first short story in 1970. He went on to write sixteen stage plays, seven television plays and three screenplays, as well as numerous short stories and poems. Tom was a natural storyteller and he had the talent to write authentic dialogue. He wrote about ‘the commonfolk’ – a term he preferred to ‘the working class’ – and he wrote about them from experience.

Tom did a spell as writer-in-residence at Durham Prison, and spent several months researching material for a television play about British orphans taken to Australia in the early years of the twentieth century. For reasons never fully explained, the BBC killed off the project before Tom had completed his final draft.

Tom died in Belfast on 3 March 2005. He had gone to Ireland to co-operate with his daughter, Pauline, on a play about Laurel and Hardy’s visit to the North East in 1932. (1)

  1. Much of this information is taken from his obituary in the Guardian, 11 March 2005, [accessed 14 May 2018] and V. MacLane, Introduction, in Tom Hadaway, The Prison Plays, (Sunderland: University of Sunderland, 2004).