John James Osborne was born on December 12, 1929, in Fulham, South West London. His father, Thomas Godfry Osborne, was then a commercial artist and copywriter; his mother, Nellie Beatrice Grove Osborne, worked as a barmaid in pubs most of her life. Much of Osborne’s childhood was spent in near poverty, and he suffered from frequent extended illnesses. He was deeply affected by his father’s death from tuberculosis in 1941 and also remembered vividly the air raids and general excitement of war. Osborne attended state schools until the age of twelve when he was awarded a scholarship to attend a minor private school, St. Michael’s College, in Barnstaple, Devon. He was expelled at the age of sixteen after the headmaster slapped Osborne’s face and Osborne hit him back. After spending some time at home, he took a series of jobs writing copy for various trade journals. He became interested in theatre while working as a tutor for children touring with a repertory company. After an education inspector found him to be uncertified as a teacher, Osborne was relieved of those duties but invited to stay with the company as assistant stage manager and eventually as an actor. He made his stage debut in March, 1948, in Sheffield and for the next seven years made the rounds of provincial repertory theatres as an actor.
Osborne’s playwriting career began while he was still an actor. He wrote five plays before the production of Look Back in Anger made him an overnight success. The Devil Inside Him, coauthored with Stella Linden, was produced in Huddersfield in 1950; Personal Enemy, coauthored with Anthony Creighton, was produced in Harrogate in 1955; and Epitaph for George Dillon, also written with Creighton, was later produced in 1958 by the English Stage Company and has been published. The real breakthrough came when Look Back in Anger was staged in 1956 as the third production of the newly formed English Stage Company at the Royal
Court Theatre. Look Back in Anger was the first play Osborne had written alone. He had submitted copies of the script to every agent in London and to many West End producers and had been rejected by all. After the success of Look Back in Anger, Osborne continued to have a highly successful career as playwright. His next play, The Entertainer, was written with Laurence Olivier in mind for the central character, Archie Rice. It was produced by the English Stage Company in April 1957 with Olivier giving what has been widely considered to be one of his finest performances. Both Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer were adapted for film. Following The Entertainer, Osborne continued to have a productive career, writing seventeen more stage plays, eleven plays for television, five screen plays (including Tom Jones, for which he received an Academy Award), and four books, including two volumes of autobiography.
Osborne was married five times: to actress Pamela Lane from 1951 to 1957; to Mary Ure, who played Alison in Look Back in Anger, from 1957 to 1962; to Penelope Gilliatt, film and later drama critic for The Observer, from 1963 to 1967; to actress Jill Bennett from 1968 to 1977; and to journalist Helen Dawson beginning in 1978. He died of heart failure on December 24, 1994.