Peter Barnes Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Peter Barnes was born in the East End of London on January 10, 1931. His mother, a Jew, and his father, an Anglican who converted to Judaism, later moved the family to the holiday resort of Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, where they ran an amusement arcade on the pier. He has one younger sister. During World War II, Barnes was evacuated to the county of Gloucestershire. After the war, he returned to Clacton and completed his formal education at a local grammar school, followed by a year’s compulsory military service. He continued his education at night school in London while working as a civil servant for the Greater London Council and as a freelance film critic. In 1954 he was film critic for Films and Filming, and the following year he became a story editor for Warwick Films. From about 1958 to 1967, he worked freelance on a number of screenplays, including Violent Moment (1958), The Professionals (1960), Off Beat (1961), and Ring of Spies (1964). In 1961, he married Charlotte Beck, a secretary at the British Film Institute, who died in 1994. In 1995, he married Christine Horn. Barnes received much attention when he became a father at the age of 69. Barnes died in London on July 1, 2004 at the age of 73.

His own first play, The Man with a Feather in His Hat, was produced for television in 1960. His first stage play, The Time of the Barracudas, was produced in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1963, but it failed, and Barnes refused permission for any subsequent productions. In 1965, his one-act play Sclerosis was produced at the Edinburgh Festival and later at the Aldwych Theatre, London, directed by...

(The entire section is 685 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Peter Barnes, an inventive and challenging dramatist, combines a hatred of the class system with a savage, satirical, and wildly comic style. Born in the East End of London to working-class parents, Barnes was the older of two children. His parents moved to Clacton-on-Sea, a resort area where they operated an amusement park and where Barnes was educated. After leaving school at seventeen, he worked for the Greater London Council before serving in the Royal Air Force from 1949 to 1950.

Upon his return to civilian life, Barnes wrote film reviews for the Greater London Council, resigning in the early 1950’s to become a freelance film critic. In 1956, he joined Warwick Films as a story editor, where he was responsible for selecting material for possible filming by the studio. From 1959 to 1966, Barnes wrote seven screenplays, including The White Trap and Not with My Wife You Don’t, and a television script, The Man with a Feather in His Hat. Feeling constrained by the commercial parameters and desiring to express his own ideas freely, Barnes turned to the stage.

The Ruling Class: A Baroque Comedy, brought Barnes to international prominence. In the work, Barnes aimed for a “comic theater of contrasting moods and opposites, where everything is simultaneously tragic and ridiculous,” and he satirizes the values, viciousness, perversions, and manipulations of the British ruling class. Barnes’s view of society becomes even bleaker in Leonardo’s Last Supper, where the famous artist is brought to a charnel house after having been prematurely declared dead. In the midst of his joy over his second chance to continue his creativity, he is killed by the poor family who needs the burial money. In the companion piece, Noonday Demons, two fourth century hermits argue about which of them is the one to whom God speaks until one kills the other. Using language that combines archaisms and contemporary slang, Barnes underscores the parallels with contemporary debates about capitalism, religion, and...

(The entire section is 848 words.)


(Drama for Students)

Peter Barnes was born January 10, 1931, on London’s East Side to parents of mixed religious backgrounds. His father was a British...

(The entire section is 429 words.)