LEADING ARTICLE: An angry watershed in British culture

Share
Related Topics
Noel Coward said of himself that he had "a talent to amuse". John Osborne, who died on Christmas Eve, had a talent to attack. He elevated vituperation into an art form. Latterly, his vitriol poured out in journalism and autobiography. But, as a p laywright, no one could ever take away his star part in the year of the greatest upheaval in recent British history: 1956.

That year saw the disastrous attempt, by a Conservative government, to reoccupy the British-owned Suez Canal, newly nationalised by Egypt. Withdrawal, under American pressure, ended our illusions of empire. Britain began its pursuit - not yet completed -of a new role in the world.

Osborne was the equivalent cultural milestone. Look Back in Anger opened in London in 1956, as confrontation simmered. The plot of his next play, The Entertainer, sprang straight from the Suez debacle. Without Osborne, journalists would never have attached the phrase "angry young man" to an entire generation. Almost inevitably, he contributed to a celebrated anti-Establishment invective, entitled Declaration. (Doris Lessing and the film-maker Lindsay Anderson also wrote.) It was early evidence of a new frame of mind that would, eventually, erode Conservative rule from inside and from out.

Without Jimmy Porter, the Midlands anti-hero of Look Back in Anger, no Harold Wilson. As opposition leader, Wilson promoted himself as the angry, no-nonsense man from the provinces, fighting against the fusty Edwardianism of Tory prime ministers.

Wilson's derisive rhetoric paralleled Porter's stage onslaughts against his upper-middle-class parents-in-law: "Don't let the Marquess of Queensberry manner fool you. They'll kick you in the groin while you're handing your hat to the maid." Or against his brother-in-law, Nigel, the "straight-backed, chinless wonder from Sandhurst ... the Platitude from Outer Space." Nigel would "end up in the Cabinet one day, make no mistake. But somewhere at the back of that mind is the vague knowledge that he and his pals have been plundering and fooling everybody for generations ..."

Osborne created a new language for the stage, demotic and undeferential. (Today, Viz echoes his anarchic mockery.) Through the door that he opened marched a phalanx of new dramatic talent, from Harold Pinter to David Hare. His language was also, of course, political. For bedside reading, Tony Blair should leaf through Osborne's early plays. To shake a power-loving, inbred Establishment, niceness is not enough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards