From the Oxford Companion to English Literature:
OSBORNE, John James (1929-94), playwright, born in Fulham, London, the son of a commercial artist who died in 1940; the first volume of his autobiography, A Better Class of Person (1981), describes his childhood in suburbia, his brief spell as a journalist, and his years as an actor in provincial repertory, during which he began to write plays, the first of which was performed in 1950. He made his name with Look Back in Anger (1956, pub. 1957), which was followed by Epitaph for George Dillon (1957, pub. 1958; written in the mid-1950s in collaboration with Anthony Creighton).; The Entertainer (1957, which starred Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice, a faded survivor of the great years of music hall), Luther (1961, based on the life of Martin *Luther, with much emphasis on his physical as well as his spiritual problems); Inadmissible Evidence (1965, the tragedy of a down-at-heel solicitor, Bill Maitland, plunging rhetorically towards self-destruction); and A Patriot for Me (1965, a highly theatrical piece set in Vienna, based on the rise and fall of Redl, a homosexual officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, ruined by blackmail). Iconoclastic, energetic, and impassioned, Osborne's works at their most positive praise the qualities of loyalty, tolerance, and friendship, but his later works (which include West of Suez, 1971; A Sense of Detachment, 1972; Watch It Come Down, 1976), became increasingly vituperative in tone, and the objects of his invective apparently more arbitrary. His outbursts of rage against contemporary society are frequently exhilarating, for the anger that made him known as an 'Angry Young Man' remained one of his strongest theatrical weapons, but he also expressed from time to time an ambivalent nostalgia for the past that his own work did so mucho to alter. His last play, Déjàvu (1991), is a sequel to Look Back in Anger, presenting the same characters in their regrouped, bad-tempered, but occasionally companionable middle age. Almost a Gentleman (1991) was a second volume of autobiography; Damn You, England (1994) a miscellany of reviews and letters to the press. (See also KITCHEN SINK DRAMA).
Look Back in Anger, a play by J. *Osborne, first produced by the *English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre on 8 May 1956, published 1957. It proved a landmark in the history of the theatre, a focus for reaction against a previous generation (see KITCHEN SINK DRAMA), and a decisive contributionto the corporate image of the *Angry Young Man.
The action takes place in a Midlands town, in the one-room flat of Jimmy and Alison Porter, and centres on their marital conflicts, which appear to arise largely from Jimmy's sense of their social incompatibility: he is a jazz-playing ex-student from a 'white tile' university, working in a market sweet satall, she is a colonel's daughter. He is by turns violent, sentimental, maudlin, self-pitying, and sadistic, and has a fine line in rhetoric. The first act opens as Alison stands ironing the clothes of Jimmy and thir lodger Cliff, as Jimmy reads the Sunday papers and abuses her and the 'Edwardian brigade' which her parents represent. In the sencond act the battle intensifies, as Alison's friend Helena attempts to rescue her from her disastrous marriage; Alison departs with her father, and Helena falls into Jimmy's arms. The third act opens with Helena at the ironing board; Alison returns, having lost the baby she was expecting, and she an Jimmy finda a manner of reconciliation through humiliation and games-playing fantasy. In its use of social milieu, its iconoclastic social attitudes, and its exploration of sadomasochistic relationships, the play was highly influential.
Angry Young Men, a journalistic catchphrase loosely applied to a number of British playwrights and novelists from the mid 1950s, including Kingsley *Amis, John *Osborne, *Sillitoe, and C. *Wilson, whose political views were radical or anarchic, and who described various forms of social alienation. It is sometimes said to derive from the title of a work by the Irish writer Leslie Paul, Angry Young Man (1951).
kitchen sink drama, a term applied in the late 1950s to the palys of writers such as *Wesker, S. *Delaney, and J. *Osborne, which portrayed working class or lower-middle class life, with an emphasis on domestic realism. These plays were written in part as a reaction against the drawing-room comedies and middle-class dramas of *Coward and *Rattigan, and also undermined the popularity of the verse drama of T. S. Eliot and C. *Fry. *Tynan was a principal advocate of this new group of writers.