John was one of Britainís most successful playwrights and completed about 40 plays. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre. Though he was born in suburbia in London he lived, died and was buried in rural Shropshire. Here I am at his grave. I also found his home where he finally conked out.
From 18 years old he was an actor and toured theatres, a helpful apprenticeship for his future career. He was just 20 when he wrote his first play. It was largely forgotten as were his first seven plays. His eighth one was Look Back in Anger which he wrote sitting in a deck chair on Morecambe pier in 17 days. It became so phenomenally successful it meant everything he wrote thereon would be taken seriously and probably staged. Over the next 40 years heíd go on to be a commercially successful writer of plays and films, changing the world of theatre by reminding audiences of real pleasures and real pains and showing the short connection between the mind and heart. He spewed vile from the gut about the state of Britain - underclass, marriage, sex. I first heard of him when I saw the television version of The Entertainer. Acting never left him and his appeared in a few films (menacing gangster Cyril Kinnear in Get Carter.) He was even in Flash Gordon.
His private life was messy and his vocal, irreverent personality helped propel him through four failed marriages, all marred by betrayal, jealousy and even violence. All the wives were intelligent independent women. He spent his final years living in a large gentlemanís residence in Shropshire which his fifth wife, finally finding peaceful compatibility. He was a multi-millionaire and lived as a country squire with beautiful bucolic rolling in every direction. Sadly it wasnít for long and died here of heart failure and diabetes-related complications on Christmas Eve in 1994 aged 65
Heís buried at the top of the street in the quaint and quiet village called Clun. Thereís a wide stream, stone bridge, cafť, bakers, post office. Occasionally a car drove by. I walked up the hill to St Georgeís churchyard and found its insides as charming as its outsides. A sign on the door asked people to close it to prevent swallows flying inside. Portions of the graveyard were overgrown but the grass was short where the famous playwright lies. Itís a plain headstone but not out of place with the older ornate ones. Next to him lies his final wife of seventeen years who brought him much-needed quietude.
Sometimes I reach a grave not knowing that one day I'd get close to a person whose books I read as an impressionable teenager. At school I can remember reading Johnís two autobiographies A Better Class of Person and Almost a Gentleman. He unclothed himself in a way unknown to me before - they're some of the most frank autobiographies Iíve read.
His final home
I found his home about two miles from Clun village in unspoilt countryside. It's up a long drive and it was here where he enjoyed a few domestically-calmer years. It's now The John Osborne Arvon Centre - a retreat for writers who want to mix with others and hopefully draw some of John's magic out of the walls and into their fountain pens. Thankfully nobody came out to wonder what all the saluting was about. I had a meander in the gardens which were a blaze of colour thanks to some well-planted wild flower seeds. Round the side I saw how capacious the building was by its depth. It was once a gentleman's residence surrounded by 26 acres of woodland but now it houses 16 bedrooms for people paying to complete writing courses. I did a salute and left.