Nell Dunn

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Nell Dunn
BornNell Mary Dunn
(1936-06-09) 9 June 1936 (age 87)
London, England
  • Playwright
  • novelist
  • screenwriter
Notable worksUp the Junction (1963) Steaming (1981)
(m. 1957; div. 1979)
RelativesSerena Rothschild (sister)
James Hamet Dunn (grandfather)

Nell Mary Dunn (born 9 June 1936[1]) is an English playwright, screenwriter and author. She is known especially for a volume of short stories, Up the Junction, and a novel, Poor Cow.

Early years[edit]

The second daughter of Sir Philip Dunn and maternal granddaughter of the 5th Earl of Rosslyn, Dunn was born in London and educated at a convent up to the age of 14. She and her older sister Serena were evacuated to America in the war. Her parents divorced in 1944.[1]

Her father did not believe his daughters needed qualifications. As a result, she has never passed an exam in her life. She only learnt to read at nine years old. Dunn said, "Whenever my father saw my appalling spelling, he would laugh. But it wasn't an unkind laugh. In his laugh there was the message, 'You are a completely original person, and everything you do has your own mark on it.' He wanted us all to be unique."[2]

Despite her upper-class background, Dunn moved in 1959 to Battersea, made friends there and worked for a time in a sweet factory. This milieu inspired much of what Dunn would later write.[3] She attended the Courtauld Institute of Art.[4]


After her marriage to Jeremy Sandford in 1957, they gave up their smart Chelsea home and went to live in unfashionable Battersea where they joined and observed the lower strata of society. From this experience he published the play Cathy Come Home in 1963, and she wrote Up the Junction.

Dunn came to notice with the publication of Up the Junction (1963), a series of short stories set in South London, some of which had already appeared in the New Statesman. The book, awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, was a controversial success at the time for its vibrant, realistic and non-judgemental portrait of its working-class protagonists. It was adapted for television by Dunn, with Ken Loach, for The Wednesday Play series, directed by Loach and broadcast in November 1965. A cinema film version was released in 1968.[5]

Talking to Women (1965) was a collection of interviews with nine friends, "from society heiresses to factory workers (Dunn herself was both)".[6] The interviewees included Edna O’Brien, Pauline Boty, Ann Quin and Paddy Kitchen.[6] Dunn's first novel, Poor Cow (1967) was made into a film in the same year, starring Carol White and Terence Stamp, under Loach's direction.

Her later books are Grandmothers (1991) and My Silver Shoes (1996). Dunn's first play Steaming was produced in 1981 and a television film Every Breath You Take in 1987. She also wrote Sisters, a film script commissioned by the BBC.

She won the 1982 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play Steaming.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Dunn was married to writer Jeremy Sandford from 1957[3] to 1979, and they had three sons. For some time the family lived on a small hill farm called Wern Watkin, outside Crickhowell in South Wales. Their farm is mentioned in a 2000 biography by their neighbour, the young Carlo Gébler, son of novelist Edna O'Brien.[8]

She became a patron of Dignity in Dying after her partner, Dan Oestreicher, died of lung cancer.[citation needed]


  • Up the Junction 1963
  • Poor Cow 1967
  • I Want (with Adrian Henri) 1972
  • Tear His Head Off His Shoulders 1974
  • The Only Child 1978
  • Grandmothers 1991
  • My Silver Shoes 1996
  • The Muse 2020


  • Steaming, 1981
  • Variety Night, 1982
  • The Little Heroine, 1988
  • Consequences, 1988
  • Babe XXX, 1998
  • Cancer Tales, 2003
  • Home Death 2011

Film scripts[edit]


  1. ^ a b Brayfield, Celia (25 July 2019). Rebel Writers: The Accidental Feminists: Shelagh Delaney • Edna O'Brien • Lynne Reid-Banks • Charlotte Bingham • Nell Dunn • Virginia Ironside • Margaret Forster. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4482-1751-9.
  2. ^ "Nell Dunn: I never used to think about death, until I was 50". The Independent. 13 October 2013. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  3. ^ a b Ironside, Virginia (16 May 2003). "Nell Dunn: I never used to think about death, until I was 50. I was never going to die. I was immortal. But now I think about death every day". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 June 2022. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  4. ^ "Our Alumni". The Courtauld Institute of Art. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  5. ^ IMDB. Retrieved 25 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b Kate Webb, Something to say for herself: hearing and recording female voices, Times Literary Supplement, 17 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Englishwoman Wins Blackburn Play Prize". The New York Times. 23 February 1982. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  8. ^ Gébler, Carlo (2000). Father and I: A Memoir. Little, Brown. ISBN 9781405529341. Retrieved 31 May 2021.
  9. ^ Lubin Odana (31 January 1968). "Poor Cow (1967)". IMDb. Retrieved 8 May 2015.

External links[edit]