Walter Greenwood was born in Salford, Lancashire on 17th December, 1903. He came from a poor working class family and left the local council school in Langworthy Road at the age of 13.
According to his biographer, Geoffrey Moorhouse: "He inherited the family tradition of determined radicalism, enthusiasm for books, and love of music, which fostered his ambition to escape from the life of the industrial slum. His father had died of alcoholism when he was nine and his mother supported them by working as a waitress. The family experience was typical of many in the area at the time, long stretches of unemployment alternating with brief periods of ill-paid and usually manual work." Greenwood did a succession of poorly paid jobs but continued to educate himself by visiting the Salford Public Library.
While out of work he wrote Love on the Dole (1933). This novel of life in a northern town during the depression was a great commercial success. Moorhouse argues: "The strength of Love on the Dole as a novel lies not in its descriptions or its narrative but in the honesty with which it tells its story of urban poverty and in the richness and accuracy of its dialogue. It is occasionally comic, it ends in tragedy, and it is essentially an account of courage in desperately universal circumstances... It became a landmark in its original form because it vividly told recognizable truths when the country was suffering them in the slump."
It was expected that Greenwood's success would enable him to marry his long-term fiancée Alice Miles, who had formed the basis for Sally Hardcastle, the heroine of his novel. He changed his mind, however, and she sued for breach of promise in January 1936,. He settled out of court and instead married Pearl Alice Osgood, an American actress.
Greenwood followed Love on the Dole with novels such as: His Worship the Major (1934), The Time is Ripe (1935), Standing Room Only (1936), Cleft Stick (1937), Only Mugs Work (1938), The Secret Kingdom (1938) and How the Other Man Lives (1939). He also wrote articles for Picture Post.
During the Second World War Greenwood formed Greenpark Productions Ltd and produced films for the British government. he also served in the Royal Army Service Corp. Other books by Greenwood included Something in my Heart (1944), So Brief the Spring (1952), What Everybody Wants (1954) and Down by the Sea (1956).
In later life Greenwood moved to Douglas, Isle of Man and published his autobiography, There Was a Time in 1967. Walter Greenwood died in 1974. His manuscripts and letters were bequeathed to Salford University.