“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”*

*— Oscar Wilde, “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892).

Michael Brooke writes for BFI screenonline:

“In 1956, John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (filmed 1959) introduced a bold new voice into not just the theatre but English culture in general. Critics labelled this and similar works by Osborne’s contemporaries as being part of the ‘angry young man’ generation, taking its name from the title of Leslie Allen Paul’s autobiography (1951).

The label was also applied to Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim, 1953, filmed 1957), John Braine (Room at the Top, 1957, filmed 1958), Shelagh Delaney (A Taste of Honey, 1957, filmed 1961), Alan Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1959, filmed 1962), Keith Waterhouse (Billy Liar, 1959, filmed 1963), Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, John Wain, Colin Wilson and Arnold Wesker.

That said, Wesker denied being an angry young man in a review of Humphrey Carpenter’s book on the movement, and some of his contemporaries felt equally uncomfortable with the label – though it didn’t hurt their sales: most of the novels listed above were immediate best-sellers.

Although not an organised and ideologically coherent artistic movement as such, the work of the ‘angry young men’ was characterised by outspoken dissatisfaction with the status quo, particularly the so-called Establishment. Reacting against stifling class distinctions, their work championed the working classes, with Osborne’s Jimmy Porter becoming a figurehead: an intelligent, articulate, university-educated man denied opportunities through being the ‘wrong’ social class. These opinions were usually expressed in direct, straightforward language, rejecting the self-conscious experimentation of the immediate prewar years.

By the late 1950s, their work had become established enough for the ‘angry young man’ label to seem somewhat limited. Most of the films that were made from their work were dubbed ‘kitchen-sink dramas’, a slightly patronising but nonetheless effective acknowledgement of how successful they had been in pushing working-class issues to the forefront of English culture.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s