On his return from fighting in the First World War, Sherriff settled down into a suburban life in London, working as an agent for an insurance company and writing plays in the evening. The plays were written to be performed at fundraising events for his beloved Kingston Rowing Club.
Journey’s End, which was inspired by Sherriff’s own experience of fighting in the First World War, was his sixth play but the first to be given a professional production. It was an immediate, outstanding and phenomenal success. Thirty one separate productions ran concurrently around the world and it was translated into twenty six languages. Its success, however, was both a boon and a burden to Sherriff for although it allowed him to give up the day job and devote himself full-time to writing it often overshadowed his later work or was used as the yardstick against which it was measured unfavourably.
Fortunately for Sherriff he was not only a playwright but also a novelist and a screenwriter. When his second professional play, Badger’s Green, flopped, he wrote a best-selling novel, The Fortnight In September. This attracted the attention of Hollywood and Carl Laemmle at Universal asked him to write the screenplay for The Invisible Man. Sherriff, accompanied by his widowed mother, went out to seek his fortune working for the new-fangled ‘talkies’. When his stock began to wane in Hollywood he returned to England and wrote the screenplay for The Four Feathers for Alexander Korda. His reputation reestablished, he went on to write screenplays for classic films such as Goodbye Mr Chips (for which he received an Oscar nomination), Lady Hamilton, Odd Man Out, The Night My Number Came Up and The Dambusters.
But Sherriff had not lost his love of the theatre and, in the years following the end of the Second World War he had what he referred to as an “Indian summer” of playwriting success with Miss Mabel, Home at Seven, The White Carnation and The Long Sunset. Although occupied as a playwright and screenwriter, he did not lose his urge to write novels and he followed the success of his first novel with The Hopkins Manuscript, Chedworth, Another Year and others.
Now, while Journey’s End continues to define Sherriff’s reputation, much of his work remains ripe for rediscovery.