Tag Archives: John Osborne

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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.