Robert Oxton Bolt was born in 1924, the younger son of Ralph Bolt and Leah Binnion Bolt. His family lived in the small town of Sale in Lancashire, England, where his father owned a shop carrying mostly furniture, glass, and china. His mother was a schoolteacher. The playwright described his parents as loving, concerned, and not unduly strict, despite their high standards. Though Bolt described his religious position as between agnosticism and atheism, he was reared a Methodist. He stated, “I ought to be religious in the sense that I’m comfortable thinking in religious terms and altogether I seem naturally constituted to be religious.”
Despite his good home background, Bolt distinguished himself as a youngster by constantly getting into trouble and remaining at the bottom of his class in the Manchester Grammar School until his graduation in 1940. Not really prepared to enter any career or qualified to go on to a university, he became an office boy for the Sun Life Assurance Company in Manchester in 1942—a position he thoroughly loathed. Determined to escape from this whole way of life, he leaped at the opportunity to study for a degree in commerce under special wartime arrangements for admission to a university program. Through intensive preparation for his Advanced Level examinations, he gained a place in an honors school at Manchester University rather than the school of commerce. There, he began work for a degree in history in 1943. During this period, he also became a Marxist. From 1942 to 1947, he was a member of the Communist Party, inspired by youthful idealistic visions of the party’s ability to change the world. He has since described himself as a Marxist with so many reservations that he would probably be scorned by a true Marxist.
After a year at Manchester University, Bolt joined the Royal Air Force and later transferred to the army, serving as an officer with the Royal West African Frontier Force in Ghana. At the end of the war, he returned to the university, where he was awarded an honors degree in history in 1949. That same year, he married Celia Ann Roberts, a painter. The couple had three children—Sally, Benedict, and Joanna—before their divorce in 1967. Bolt would later marry the actress Sara Miles, by whom he had one son and from whom he was divorced in 1976. In 1980, he married Ann Zane.
Following his graduation from Manchester, Bolt prepared for a career in education by studying for his teaching diploma, which he received from the University of Exeter in 1950. For the next eight years, he worked as an English teacher, first at a village in Bishopsteignton in Devon and then at Millfield School in Street, Devon. His desire to become a dramatist first developed in 1954 while he was searching for a Nativity play to perform with the children at the village school. Finding none of the plays he had read satisfactory, he decided to compose his own. Bolt recalled vividly “the electric tension” that built up inside him after he had composed some of the dialogue, and he remembered telling his wife, “Listen, I think I’ve found what I want to do.” At this point, he decided to combine teaching with writing and began composing radio scripts.
An adaptation of his 1955 radio script, The Last of the Wine, was staged in London at Theatre in the Round in 1956. The success of Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger that same year made Bolt feel that young playwrights might have a chance of breaking into the West End theaters, and Bolt sent his play The Critic and the Heart to the Royal Court Theatre, where the reader—Osborne himself—rejected it, claiming that it was a promising play but not the particular kind of drama that the theater was seeking. Although Bolt did not succeed in getting a West End showing, The Critic and the Heart was produced at the Oxford Playhouse in 1957 and was well received. This play represents Bolt at his most traditional. Bolt himself criticized the play for being too orthodox and...
(The entire section is 1,842 words.)