The Blagger's Guide To: Tony Harrison

Wonder why he's not Poet Laureate? Read his poem to Camilla

The poet and playwright Tony Harrison celebrates his 75th birthday tomorrow. He was born in Beeston, Leeds, attending Leeds Grammar School before reading Classics and Linguistics at Leeds University. His unease about war dates back to his childhood when, aged 8, he "likened the bonfires in the street [on VJ Day] to the terrible fire that helped finish the war. I've always struggled to find a way of uniting my celebratory nature with a way of seeing horrors clearly."

His plays include Fram (2008) and The Bartered Bride (1978), as well as adaptations of Molière and Greek tragedies. His 1998 film Prometheus links the Greek myth with the Yorkshire mining industry and Second World War concentration camps.

His poem "A Kumquat for John Keats" was written when he was 42. It is arguably poetry's finest example of citrus fruit-as-metaphor for the soul.

Plans by Channel 4 in 1987 to screen his poem "V" led to outrage, objections and a debate in Parliament. Inspired by the desecration of his parents' graves by football hooligans, the poem was criticised for its "torrents of obscene language" and "streams of four-letter filth". Naturally, Mary Whitehouse became involved, and an Early Day Motion was tabled by a group of protesting Conservative MPs. Only one MP (Norman Buchan, Labour, West Renfrewshire) opposed the Motion, wondering aloud whether many MPs in the Commons had actually read the poem. The Independent published the poem in full to allow people to make up their own minds. Tory MP Gerald Howarth's comment that Harrison was "probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us" was countered by Harrison, who called Howarth "probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us". The broadcast was screened to hardly any complaints from viewers, and "V" is now studied in schools.

Harrison appears to be popular with the actors in his plays. The Blagger is told that the NT cast of Fram call themselves "The Framily", and have regular reunions, after Harrison flew them all to Norway for dinner on deck of the Fram in Oslo at the end of the NT run.

His poem "Shrapnel" appeared exclusively in The Independent on Sunday in August 2005. Beginning with a memory from his childhood in Leeds, it ends with a reflection on the London bombings of that summer. His poem "Off the Scent" was also published for the first time in The IoS. Triggered by the vote in the Commons to ban hunting, it compared Tony Blair to a hunter "in his Iraq-hued hunting coat/ whose cheeks with Bush-brush daubings bloat/ when he blows hard on Herod's hunting horn/ to cluster bomb the cradle-culled newborn..."

Some wonder why Harrison has never been selected as the Poet Laureate. Then they read his poem written on the occasion of the Prince of Wales's marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles, which contains the lines: "O let law make the monarch as defunct/ as Camilla's tampon after menopause."

In his house he keeps a bust of Milton, to remind him of the "grave and committed role of the poet", and another of John Nicholson, the Airedale Bard, who began life as a Yorkshire woolsorter and ended it drunk, face down in the River Aire, having compromised his poetry in return for money and fame.

His Selected Poems is published by Penguin (£9.99)

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments