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...
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