One of John Osborne's Thoughts for 1954: 'The urge to please above all. I don't have it and can't achieve it. A small thing but more or less mine own.' This book does please and has pleased. It is immensely enjoyable, is written with great gusto and Osborne has had better notices for it than for any of his plays since Inadmissible Evidence.
Books are safer than plays, of course, because (unless one is a monk at lunch) reading is a solitary activity. A play is a public event where, all too often these days, for the middle-class playgoer, embarrassment rules, oh dear. Especially where Osborne is concerned. Nor does reading his book carry with it the occupational hazards of seeing his plays, such as finding the redoubtable Lady Redgrave looming over one ready to box one's ears, as she did to a vociferous member of the audience of A Sense of Detachment. The book as a form is safe, even cosy, and I suspect that critics, who have given Osborne such a consistently hard time for so long, heaved a sigh of relief at this autobiography, since it was something, to quote another John's spoof of Dorothy L. Sayers, 'to be read behind closed doors'. Though without necessarily taking Orton's other piece of advice - namely, to 'have a good shit while reading it'.
LRB 3 December 1981 | PDF Download