Seldom has a dramatist so compulsively revealed so much of himself, his flaws, his anxieties, his passion and his hatred, as John Osborne. By any standards, his was a dazzlingly high-octane performance. In a succession of increasingly ambitious plays written during the 1950s and 1960s, the era of social and political consensus giving way to doubt, he attempted to unite a profound, intuitive intelligence with a caustically honest depth of feeling. 'To be tentative,' he reflected, 'is beyond me.' By refusing to submit to caution, he laid bare in some of the most poetic and incendiary language heard in the twentieth-century theatre, not only his own struggles and contradictions but those of the times in which he lived. Almost single-handedly, he made the theatre important again. Catapulted from obscurity to being the icon of his age when he was only twenty-five, Osborne was at the height of his fame equally celebrated and derided as 'the Angry Young Man'. His was the voice of the moment.Even when his plays fell out of fashion during the 1980s and beyond, when he found it difficult to have his work produced, he remained committed to the impulses that had always sustained him, while his relentless self-inquisition gained the condolence of a deep spiritual belief.
This biography examines Osborne's fractious, often chaotic personal life against the social and political background of his times. It provides an invigorating insight into his complex, often anguished personality and a fresh critical assessment of his writing to give a vivid account not only of what it was like to be John Osborne, loyal and generous, scathing and brutal, but what it was like to be so restlessly a creative artist in the latter part of the twentieth century. By embedding Osborne in a social and cultural as well as a biographical context, Whitebrook presents Osborne in a way that he has not been presented before.Neither have other accounts explored as fully his regional repertory experience, the importance of his early collaborative work with Anthony Creighton, the lasting friendship with Pamela Lane, placed as much importance upon his deep spiritual beliefs, revealed the autobiographical background to Look Back in Anger or the later Watch It Come Down so extensively or attempted to place his literary achievement within a quintessentially English tradition. It is a story of a man whose star rose very quickly and very early, and fell slowly and inexorably.A story of a man who knew himself perhaps too well, but not particularly wisely.
It is exhilarating, perplexing and tragic.