British novelist, critic, playwright, and broadcaster. He was appointed to the OM in 1977.
Priestley was born and educated in Bradford, where his father was a schoolmaster. Throughout World War I he served in the army and then went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he began his career as a writer. In the 1920s he published several volumes of criticism, including studies of Meredith (1926) and Peacock (1927), as well as several novels. However, his first major success came with the picaresque novel The Good Companions (1929). He consolidated this success with Angel Pavement in the following year. The 1930s saw Priestley's debut as a playwright, first with the dramatization of The Good Companions (1931), and then with Dangerous Corner (1932) and Laburnum Grove (1934). In addition to fiction and drama, he also wrote essays, such as English Journey (1934) and Rain upon Godshill (1939). In 1937 he became president of the London PEN Club (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists).
During World War II Priestley was a popular broadcaster and in his plays and other works accurately reflected the wartime mood of the British public. After the war he was a delegate to the UNESCO conferences (1946–47) and subsequently chairman of the international theatre conferences in Paris (1947) and Prague (1948). The 1940s, a particularly prolific period in his theatrical output, saw the production of such plays as An Inspector Calls (1946) and The Linden Tree (1947). He also wrote the libretto for Bliss's opera The Olympians (1949).
In 1953 Priestley married his third wife, the archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes (1910– ), with whom he collaborated on the play Dragon's Mouth (1952) and wrote Journey Down a Rainbow (1955). His output continued almost as varied and prolific as ever, and he added writing for television to his repertoire. Turning again to criticism, he wrote The Art of the Dramatist (1957) and Literature and Western Man (1960); his Essays of Five Decades appeared in 1969. Among his postwar novels were Festival at Farbridge (1951), Saturn Over the Water (1961), and It's an Old Country (1967), but he published an increasing proportion of nonfiction, including the autobiographical volumes Margin Released (1962) and Instead of the Trees (1977). His patriotic delight in national traditions and history is the motivating force in much of this work, notably The English (1973).