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John Osborne

© Mark Gerson / National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Osborne

by Mark Gerson
bromide print, 1957
17 in. x 15 in. (432 mm x 380 mm)
Purchased, 1989
Photographs Collection
NPG x32734

Sitterback to top

  • John James Osborne (1929-1994), Playwright, autobiographer and actor. Sitter in 21 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Mark Gerson (1921-), Photographer. Artist associated with 277 portraits, Sitter in 2 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 275 Read entry

    One of the original 'Angry Young Men', John Osborne made his name with his play Look Back in Anger, which opened at the Royal Court Theatre in May 1956. It was set in a one-room flat in a Midlands town, and centred on the marital conflict between Jimmy Porter, from a 'white tile' university, working on a market stall, and his wife Alison, a colonel's daughter. A landmark in British theatre, this 'kitchen sink' drama was a focus for reaction against the work of a previous generation - the middle-class comedies of Coward and Rattigan and the portentous verse-plays of T. S. Eliot and Christopher Fry. In the plays which followed Osborne presented a series of tormented or tragic heroes, Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1957), Luther (1961) and Colonel Redl in A Patriot for Me (1965). Later works such as A Sense of Detachment (1972) and indeed his autobiography A Better Class of Person (1981), have proved that his anger has not diminished over the years, even if the viewpoint has become more conservative.

    Mark Gerson took up professional photography in 1947, working from a studio near Marble Arch for magazines such as John O'London's Weekly and Books and Bookmen. He has made a speciality of portraits of writers, photographed informally in their gardens or homes, and he believes that the photographer's role should be as neutral as possible. His study of Osborne is therefore untypical. Gerson first photographed him at his house in Woodfall Street, Chelsea, on 22 February 1957 for The Tatler, and afterwards Osborne asked him to take a photograph of the front of the Royal Court Theatre with his name up in lights for his own use. It was Gerson's idea to make a montage of the two photographs in one image. He writes: 'I did it for fun and presented it to John, who was very impressed and ordered masses of postcard size prints for his fans'.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1957back to top

Current affairs

Harold Macmillan takes over as Conservative prime minister, manoeuvring Eden out of power after his poor handling of the Suez Crisis the previous year.
The Wolfenden Report recommends that homosexuality should no longer be a criminal offence. It still took ten years, however, before any changes were made to the law on homosexuality with the Sexual Offences Act in 1967.

Art and science

The Today Programme is first broadcast on Radio 4. This early morning current affairs programme is known for breaking major stories early, and for its hard-hitting approach and touch interviewing style. Presenters have included: Robert Robinson, Brian Redhead, Libby Purves, Jenni Murray, Sue MacGregor, John Humphrys, Anna Ford and James Naughtie.


The Treaty of Rome leads to the formation of the European Economic Community. Officially beginning on 1st January 1958, the EEC established a European Common Market, where goods, services, labour and capital could move freely within the European member countries, and shared policies were agreed for labour, social welfare, agriculture, transport, and foreign trade. The EEC preceded the European Community, and the European Union.

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