Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
John Osborne grew up in Fulham, Ventnor, and Surrey, leading a suburban childhood in somewhat less dire circumstances than one’s preconception of Jimmy Porter’s alter ego would lead one to expect. In fact, every class subtlety between “upper-lower” and “lower-middle” was represented in his own extended family; Osborne’s autobiography traces, with a gusto bordering on the vengeful, the Welsh and Cockney sides of his family, and characterizes, in the spirit of English low comedy, their attempts to sustain outworn Edwardian amenities after having “come down in the world.” His father was an advertising copywriter who suffered long spells of illness, and his mother was a barmaid, but the family tree included many connections to the music hall and the theater. (Grandfather Grove, for example, would be revived in the form of Billy Rice in The Entertainer.)
Osborne was an only child, rather sickly and bookish. His most vivid memories of adolescence include listening in the air-raid shelter to German bombers and suffering the abuse of bullies at school. Eventually, he went to a boarding school, St. Michael’s, and after being expelled for striking back at the headmaster, turned toward journalism as a reporter for a trade journal, Gas World. After a failed engagement, he joined a struggling touring company, with which he gained his first experience in acting and playwriting, including an artistic and sexual collaboration with an...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
John James Osborne was born in Fulham, a grimy district of south London, England, on December 12, 1929, the only son of Thomas Godfrey Osborne, who worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency, and Nellie Beatrice Osborne, who worked as a barmaid. Osborne’s father died when Osborne was ten, and at least partially sentimental portraits of fathers and grandfathers figure prominently in Osborne’s plays, as do unflattering portraits of mother figures, as Osborne’s relationship with his mother was not very satisfactory. His unhappy middle-class childhood and adolescence are vividly portrayed in the first volume of his autobiography, A Better Class of Person: An Autobiography, 1929-1956 (1981). The second and last volume of his autobiography, Almost a Gentleman (1991), covers an additional decade.
At fifteen, Osborne was expelled from St. Michael’s, an undistinguished boarding school in Devon, for hitting a teacher. Three years later, while working as a journalist for trade magazines, Osborne drifted into his theater career, which began when he took a job as an assistant stage manager, actors’ understudy, and tutor of juvenile troop members. After working seven years touring English provincial theaters and writing plays in his spare time, Osborne became an overnight sensation at the age of twenty-six when his third play, Look Back in Anger (pr. 1956, pb. 1957), was accepted by the English Stage Company and performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, under the artistic direction of George Devine.
Look Back in Anger opened on May 8, 1956, and in a review in The Observer on Sunday, May 13, the legendary theater critic Kenneth Tynan...
(The entire section is 697 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
John Osborne’s historical importance in modern British drama is seldom questioned. His play Look Back in Anger gave a name, “the angry young men,” to a whole generation of British writers. There is also no doubting the solid theatrical quality of his first big hit, since the compelling portrait of Jimmy Porter continues to command the stage wherever Osborne’s play is revived. His prolific output includes more than forty other stage, screen, and television plays.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Few dramatists have by virtue of one play defined the beginning of a new age. John James Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, first produced on May 8, 1956 (the year of Great Britain’s Suez debacle), at the Royal Court Theatre in London, enjoys the distinction of such a historical moment. His play gave name to a new kind of theater, “the angry theater,” and to a new dramatic era. The English stage, dominated by the well-made, middle-class drawing-room dramas and Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan, seemed to have changed overnight.
Dramatists of both older and younger generations, Rattigan on the one hand and Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard on the other, acknowledged being moved by the honest force of an angry Jimmy Porter, the main character, who as a graduate of a “redbrick” English university finds himself in a dead-end existence. His only means of livelihood is the operation of a sweets stall in a dreary Midlands town. Having no one or nothing on which to vent a lifetime of injuries endured, he unleashes his anger on those whom he loves and with whom he lives—his genteel wife, Alison, and his best friend, Cliff. His personal anger is aggravated by the loss of idealism; to Porter there are no more great causes, such as the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. The effect of the play was to unleash a proliferation of dramatists in two successive waves of British drama. In the first wave, Pinter emerged as the leading innovative stylist. In the second, Stoppard reinvigorated drama with the plotting and linguistic pyrotechnics of his high comedy of ideas.
Osborne followed Look Back in Anger—a stylistically conventional play in the tradition of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg—with others exhibiting the disillusionment of the post-World War II generations. Social alienation, the result of England’s colonial past and of the oppressive class system, came under angry attack from other working-class and lower-middle-class writers, as well as from Cambridge-and Oxford-educated dramatists such as Trevor Griffiths and David Hare, who wrote radical-left dramas attacking England’s past and present. Osborne thus enjoys a fixed place in British theater history.
Osborne was the only child of Thomas Godfrey, a commercial artist and copywriter, and Nellie Beatrice Grove Osborne, a barmaid. He grew up in poverty during World War II and, not thinking highly of his two years of charity-assisted...
(The entire section is 997 words.)