A Bit About Playwright John Osborne
John Osborne was a British playwright, screenwriter and actor, renowned for catalysing an era of “angry young man” theatre. He embodied this term both in his work which was scathing of established social and political norms, but also in his relationships with his multiple wives and children, of which there are extensive accounts of his abusive behaviour. His 1956 play Look Back in Anger is a pivotal work in the history of English theatre.
Born in 1929 to an advertising copywriter and a cockney barmaid, Osborne’s family moved from London to a small suburb north of Surrey in search of a better life. His father died when he was 12, leaving him money to undertake private education. After two years at the school he was expelled after striking the headmaster, who had struck him for listening to a banned broadcast by Frank Sinatra. After school he moved back home with his mother, whom he is said to have loathed, and briefly worked in trade journalism. Through this work he encountered a touring theatre troupe and later became a stage manager and actor with the group. He tried his hand at playwriting and experienced early success, with his first play that he co-wrote with Stella Linden who directed it at the Theatre Royal in 1950.
Osborne’s most successful play, Look Back in Anger, was written over 17 days and is largely autobiographical. It is said to be written about his first marriage with Pamela Lane, their arguments and his experience of her having an affair. Mary Ure acted in the play’s debut season, and she later married Osborne, with Osborne divorcing Lane to do so. The phrase “angry young man” originated from criticism by a press officer at the theatre who was concerned the play would be impossible to market. While the play did initially receive criticism from a number of critics, reception ultimately became overwhelmingly positive and resulted in Osborne winning the Evening Standard Drama Award for most promising playwright of 1956.
Later, in 1961 Osborne won a Tony award for his play Luther, an Oscar for his 1963 screenplay adaption of Tom Jones, and Evening Standard Best Play of the Year Awards for A Patriot for Me and The Hotel in Amsterdam in 1968.
Osborne developed health issues with his liver later in his life, developing diabetes. When he was 65 he died from health complications related to diabetes in Shropshire, England.
Top 5 John Osborne Plays
If you are going to read one play from John Osborne, without a doubt it has to be Look Back in Anger. This is one of the best plays ever written, and is a must-read for all actors.
- Look Back in Anger (1956)
- The Entertainer (1957)
- Luther (1961)
- A Patriot for Me (1965)
- The Hotel in Amsterdam (1968)
Quotes by John Osborne
“Don’t be afraid of being emotional. You won’t die of it.”
“It is not true that drink changes a man’s character. It may reveal it more clearly.”
“You see I learnt at an early age what it was to be angry – angry and helpless. And I can never forget it. I knew more about – love, betrayal and death when I was ten years old than you will probably ever know in your life.”
“Writers don’t need love; all they require is money.”
“There’s no such thing as failure – just waiting for success.”
“Let’s pretend that we’re human beings and that we’re actually alive.”