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John James Osborne

actor , literary critic , playwright , screenwriter , writer

John James Osborne was one of the most famous British playwrights who changed the face of the British theatre. Before he arrived on the theatrical scene, the British theatre consisted mainly of melodramas and safe, middle class drawing-room comedies. He has written several screenplays. Osborne was the first to question the point of the monarchy on a prominent public stage. He was an 'angry young man' who spent his happiest years in Shropshire.


Osborne was born in December 12, 1929 in London in a working-class family. His father, Thomas Godfrey Osborne, was a commercial artist and advertising copywriter, came from the South of Wales , and his mother, Nellie Beatrice, was a Cockney barmaid. He adored his father and hated his mother.


Osborne used insurance money after his father’s death in 1941 for a boarding-school education at Belmont College, Devon, where there were some incidents. Once director, having caught him listening to records of F. Sinatra hit him, John did the same. He was suspended from the summer semester exams for this and subsequently received a certificate with low scores, not reflecting his natural intelligence and talent.


After High school, Osborne returned to London and began to work at the theatre tutoring a touring company of young actors.

He went on to serve as an actor-manager for some repertory companies and soon decided to try his hand at writing plays.

Before Osborne appeared on the theatrical scene, the British theatre consisted mainly of melodramas and safe, middle class drawing-room comedies.

But in 1956, Osborne's third play and first London-produced drama, Look Back in Anger, shocked audiences and "wiped the smugness off the frivolous face of English theatre," as John Lahr put it in a New York Times Book Review article.

The play not only influenced playwrights such as Joe Orton and Edward Albee, but it also threw cold water in the face of a sleepy popular culture.

All manner of writers, actors, artists, and musicians (including the Beatles) soon reflected the influence of Osborne's "angry young man."

So impressed was Laurence Olivier with Look Back in Anger that he commissioned Osborne to write a play for him.

The result was was The Entertainer, which featured a leading role that is considered one of the greatest and most challenging parts in late twentieth-century drama.

In The Entertainer, (1957), Osborne continued to examine the state of the country, this time using three generations of a family of entertainers to symbolize the decline of England after the war.

After this, the quality of Osborne's output became erratic. Although he produced a number of hits, he also produced a string of unimportant works. Critics began to accuse him of not fulfilling his early potential and audiences no longer seemed effected by his rage.


  • Osborne's work transformed the British theatre. He helped to make it artistically respected again, throwing off the formal constraints of the former generation, and turning our attention once more to language, theatrical rhetoric, and emotional intensity. He saw theatre as a weapon with which ordinary people could break down the class barriers and he was sure that he had a 'beholden duty to kick against the pricks'. He wanted his plays to be a reminder of real pleasures and real pains.

    Osborne was one of the first writers to address Britain's purpose in the post-imperial age. He was the first to question the point of the monarchy on a prominent public stage. During his peak (1956–1966), he helped to make contempt an acceptable and now even cliched onstage emotion, argued for the cleansing wisdom of bad behaviour and bad taste, and combined unsparing truthfulness with devastating wit.


  • Book (1981)

    • A Better Class of Person

  • book (1991)

    • Almost a Gentleman

  • Play (1950)

    • The Devil Inside

  • Play (1951)

    • The Great Bear

  • Play (1955)

    • Personal Enemy

  • Play (1956)

    • Look Back in Anger

  • Play (1957)

    • The Entertainer

  • Play (1958)

    • Epitaph for George Dillon

  • Play (1959)

    • The World Of Paul Slickey

  • Play (1960)

    • A Subject Of Scandal And Concern

  • Play (1961)

    • Luther

  • play (1962)

    • Plays for England

    • The Blood of the Bambergs

    • Under Plain Cover

  • Play (1964)

    • Inadmissible Evidence

  • Play (1965)

    • A Patriot for Me

  • Play (1966)

    • A Bond Honoured

  • Play (1968)

    • The Hotel In Amsterdam

    • Time Present

  • Play (1971)

    • West Of Suez

  • Play (1972)

    • A Sense Of Detachment

    • Hedda Gabler

  • Play (1973)

    • A Place Calling Itself Rome

  • Play (1975)

    • The End Of Me Old Cigar

    • The Picture Of Dorian Gray

  • Play (1976)

    • Watch It Come Down

  • Play (1978)

    • Try A Little Tenderness

  • Play (1989)

    • The Father

  • Play (1992)

    • Déjàvu

  • Screenplay (1963)

    • Tom Jones

  • screenplay (1968)

    • The Charge of the Light Brigade


Osborne joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1959. Later he drifted to the libertarian, unorganized right, considering himself "a radical who hates change".


Angry Young Man. The "angry young men" were a group of mostly working and middle class British playwrights and novelists who became prominent in the 1950s. The group's leading members included John Osborne and Kingsley Amis.


  • Other Interests

    Osborne was a great fan of Max Miller (comedian).


Osborne was married five times with all except his final marriage being unhappy unions.

Thomas Godfrey Osborne - English - Commercial artist and advertising copywriter of South Welsh extraction

His father, an advertising copywriter, died in 1941, leaving Osborne an insurance settlement which he used to finance a boarding school education at Belmont College in Devon.

Nellie Beatrice Osborne - English - Cockney barmaid

He hated his mother, who he later wrote taught him "The fatality of hatred … She is my disease, an invitation to my sick room," and described her as "hypocritical, self-absorbed, calculating and indifferent."

Wife (last):
Helen Dawson - Former arts journalist and critic for The Observer

Dawson (1939–2004) was a former arts journalist and critic for The Observer. This final marriage of Osborne's, which lasted until his death, seems to have been Osborne's first happy union. Until her death in 2004, Dawson worked tirelessly to preserve and promote Osborne's legacy.