Tag Archives: John Osborne

John Osborne and Billy Bennett

John Osborne picFound, a letter dated 6th December 1990 from someone called Rudi to the playwright John Osborne, whom he addresses as ‘ Colonel’, presumably a reference to Colonel Redl, the protagonist of Osborne’s controversial play A Patriot For Me (1965).

The letter accompanies a copy of Billy Bennett’s Third Budget of Burlesque Monologues (c1940), which Rudi had sent Osborne as a sixty-first birthday present. The Music Hall star Bennett ( 1887 – 1942), a unique comic presence on the stage and on radio from 1919, was a great favourite of Osborne’s, as indeed he was of Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd and Eric Morecambe. Bennett’s billing as ‘ almost a gentleman ‘ was used by the playwright as the title of his second volume of memoirs. Here is the letter in full: Continue reading

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Action list from John Osborne

Found in Christoper Herold’s Mistress to an Age. A Life of Madame de Stael (Hamish Hamilton, London 1959) a list scribbled on the front endpaper. The book came from the library of the playwright John Osborne (1929 – 1994). It has a posthumous book label reading ‘From The Library  of the Hurst. The John Osborne Arvon Centre Shropshire.’ The Hurst was his final residence – a large country house, now a cultural centre owned by the Arvon foundation. The writings are Osborne’s notes to himself about changes possibly needed (or not) in his life.

Handwritten  notes-to-self are not uncommon in second hand books, although they tend to be in self-improvement or psychological/ spiritual works. In a jot from 2013 we show a copy of  48 Laws of Power with notes by King of Pop Michael Jackson. The connection with Osborne and Madame de Stael is obscure. Osborne appears never to have referred to her in a play.. He has a few notes about her on the rear endpaper: ’How that girl plays at sensibility writing letters from room to room..’ He notes a quotation from Voltaire about Diderot: ‘No one has ever written more amusingly on famine.’

He also highlights something that Madame de Stael wrote to her husband -‘What I love about noise is that it camouflages life..’ His biographer writes that Osborne had a life-long hatred of noise, often writing complaining letters about it. This action list /cri de coeur probably comes from a period in the 1980s when he was at a low ebb, especially as his film production company (Woodfall) which had (1970s) made a fortune from the worldwide success of Tom Jones (he wrote the script) appeared to be in a serious financial mess. The endpaper notes read:

1. Sex

2. Desire to work

3. No desire to work

4. Whether to give up work altogether. 

5. Desire to do something else altogether. Pure leisure e.g.

6. Decision to give up drink

7. Decision to go on drinking and resign to an early grave.

8. Decision to change way of life and live sober/ industrious (illegible) life  dedicated to self-improvement and tough grappling with all problems mostly   (illegible)

9. Give up Woodfall

10. Not give up Woodfall for reasons of sentiment, cowardice and expenditure

11. Seek new place in which to lead better, less wasteful life

12. Stay put

13. Go on holiday.

14. Stay put.

15. No. More (illegible – cats?)

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John Osborne observed in 1959

Reading Which of Us Two? The Story of a Love Affair (Viking, London 1990).It is the record of a 'youthful, illicit and intense' relationship between John Tasker (1933 – 1988) the theatre director and Colin Spencer (born 1933) artist and writer. Spencer uses a  collection of letters the lovers wrote to each other (his were returned after John Tasker's death) and considers the relationship and why he 'murdered its future'. Spencer makes acute and amusing comments on literary figures including John Osborne (whose library we bought last year). This entry was starred by Osborne in his copy:

17.iii. 59. Yesterday I began drawing the great Mr Osborne, tall, thin, spectral: in black skin-tight trousers that showed a cute bottom and a huge lunch. And camp, my dear – not 'arf.  And the musical, my dear, cor that's a queer dish too, everybody changes their sex halfway through and deliciously lovely Adrienne Corri grows hair on her chest. Most peculiar: he was moving about so much, it's only the second week of rehearsals...though I did some lightning things with a brush, it just won't do so I'm going back after Easter and try some more. He has a curiously camp voice and he appears to stare at one with his teeth...

Colin Spencer says of this letter:

The John Osborne musical was of course The World of Paul Slickey, soon to become the only commercial failure of his early years. [We]admired Look Back in Anger, our generation felt that Osborne encapsulated the rage we all felt over the limitations of the British theatre.Yet like so much of the later Osborne the play now seems an hysterical diatribe, the characters thin and invalid,the plot negligible..it was brilliant journalism.. masquerading as theatre.

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An Appreciation of a Life

This typed memorial appreciation fell out of a small Book of Common Prayer. It is a model of its kind and worth preserving. The little prayer book was from the library of the playwright John Osborne (1929 - 1994) and probably belonged to the parents of his fourth wife Helen Dawson, who had connections in the Sunderland area. Osborne himself, on the evidence of the books, was a churchgoer in later life and  on at least one occasion read the lesson in his local church. This piece commemorates John Hall Robinson, a businessman and Methodist preacher who was probably born in the 1860s.

Rev. W. Foster Elves,
48, Otto Terrace,
Sunderland.

An appreciation of Mr. J. H. Robinson delivered in Ewesley Road Methodist Church on Wednesday, December 9th 1942.

It is my high privilege, though my sad duty to pay testimony to the life and influence of John Hall Robinson. I must not take up much time, not that his memory does not warrant it but because he himself would not have wished it. That was his way. He did his work with devotion and love and found his satisfaction, not in the praise of men though that was given, but in the memory of a task completed as best he could. 

It is not for me to speak of the uprightness and zeal that he brought to his business life. Men who met him in his office, men who had commercial dealings with him will witness to and remember those qualities. They have said that he was as straight as a dye, honest even to the smallest detail and, only yesterday a traveller said to me, "it was a pleasure to have dealings with him". I do not think any higher tribute could be paid to a man's character than that.

It was with his spiritual life that I was more intimate, though in him it was difficult to discern where his business life ended and the spiritual began. He brought to the one the inspiration and the guidance of the other.

In his youth Mr Robinson was an athlete of considerable skill - into his Christian life he brought some of his athletic prowess. There was a quiet robustness about him one felt, a reserve of strength, a confidence in his faith and a readiness to stand firmly for his principles. He never lost his youthful spirit and one reason that we feel his loss so keenly is that we were never able to realise he was more than 70 years of age.

For 31 years he was a Methodist Local Preacher. His visits to the churches well welcomed. He was fearless in his denunciations but generous in his praises, he had no time for the half-hearted but would spare neither time nor energy to help those finding life difficult. 

Sunderland Methodism will miss him sorely. How then shall I describe the loss sustained at King's Hall? The church in which he was to all a big brother, the church in which, with distinction he was class-leader, choirmaster, brotherhood official, and trustee. But he is not lost - John Robinson cannot die for those who knew him - we have him still, an inspiration and a help. He will be for us, in that little church, always a man of tenderness, a large sympathy, a sweet and gracious courtesy infinitely attractive and endearing. 

To Mrs Robinson and her family we give our sympathy, sympathy too deep and sacred for words. We share with you your loss. We do for you all that we can do, we commend you to the care of Him whom your loved one loved and served so faithfully.

John Hall Robinson, we thank God for every remembrance of you, may we be worthy of knowing you and loving you. John Robinson, "Well done!".