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University of Texas at Austin

John Osborne:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Osborne, John, 1929-1994
Title John Osborne Papers 1956-1994
Dates: 1956-1994
Extent 50 boxes, 8 oversize boxes, 3 oversize flat file folders (32.676 linear feet)
Abstract: The papers of this British playwright consist of manuscripts of many of his works, correspondence, newspaper and magazine articles, scrapbooks, posters, programs, and business documents.
Language English.
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition Reg. No. 13432
Processed by Liz Murray, 1995

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Scope and Contents

John Osborne's work as a playwright, author, actor, producer, director, and contributor to numerous newspapers and periodicals is represented in this collection, which consists of holograph manuscripts and notebooks, typescripts, page and galley proofs, correspondence, newspaper and magazine articles, scrapbooks, posters, programs, and business documents. The material spans five decades beginning in the mid-1950s just prior to his important play, Look Back in Anger (1956). Credited with launching a dramatic renaissance in Britain, Osborne's literary style is known for its verbal pyrotechnics and repeated themes of anger, defeat, and disillusionment. Osborne's skill at sulphuric prose is also present in his correspondence where passionate beliefs are expressed with eloquent vitriol.
Osborne's three books, consisting of two autobiographies and a volume of collected prose; nearly all of his plays dating from his early Look Back in Anger to his last, DéjàVu; significant correspondence; and journalism are well represented in this collection. Frequently, both holograph and typescript material are present for his books, plays, and other writings, providing continuity from conception to publication. The material is arranged in six series: Works, Correspondence, Information about J.O., Printed Material, Personal, and Works by Others.
In the first series, Osborne's works are arranged by title in the following categories: books; stage, screen, and television plays; adaptations and film; and articles, reviews, and other writings. In some cases holograph notebooks contain more than one title. These are alphabetized by the first title in the notebook. Likewise, some play scripts are combined or have undergone name changes over time. Osborne's adaptations include the works of Strindberg, Ibsen, Wilde, and De Vega. A holograph notebook of the Academy Award winning film, Tom Jones, is also present. The Articles, Reviews, and Other Writings section consists of Osborne's articles, columns, reviews, and letters to the editor written for numerous newspapers and periodicals. Identification of publication and date is provided whenever possible. As with his books and plays, holograph manuscripts and typescript drafts accompany the final piece. Many of these writings reappear in Osborne's volume of collected prose, Damn You, England.
The Correspondence series contains letters written to Osborne and some of his wives, Osborne's replies (usually typed carbons), postcards, telegrams, greeting cards, invitations, contracts and other agreements, and Osborne family genealogy. Osborne corresponded with colleagues, critics, friends, family, fans, and those with whom he had legal and business dealings. The correspondence was originally housed in 2-ring binders and one expanding file. Osborne retained both incoming and outgoing correspondence in the binders, arranged in approximate date order by subject (usually play titles) and by alphabetical division in the expanding file. Osborne frequently composed his responses on the back of the incoming correspondence. Much of his outgoing correspondence was prepared by his secretaries and sent in his absence. Drafts of many letters exist, typed and handwritten, as well as typed transcripts of telegrams.
While the original subjects of the 2-ring binders are maintained, the letters are rehoused in folders and arranged in alphabetical order. Osborne's subject titles are used, although some subject areas overlap or are duplicated. The correspondence is arranged in five subseries. The largest is Works (arranged by title), followed by Personal, including correspondence with his wives and family, the Osborne genealogy, and "household and domestic matters" at Osborne's London house on Chelsea Square. The subseries Business contains correspondence with agents, publishers, lawyers, theaters, and production companys regarding contracts, fees, and royalties. Osborne's category of "Fans, Friends, and Lunatics" describes the next subseries which includes several folders with similar titles.
The Miscellaneous/General subseries contains correspondence from Osborne's alphabetical expanding file. The purpose of this file is unclear since subject areas are mixed and the dates range from 1958-1992. The topics of censorship and rejected scripts are also included in this series.
In order to document the original groupings of the 2-ring binders, the following is a list of their contents:
  • Agents and Publishers (General)--including Foreign Agents
  • Chelsea Square: Household, domestic matters
  • English State Company
  • Epitaph for George Dillon (and Dillon Productions), Look Back in Anger, The Entertainer
  • Hedda Gabler; A Sense of Detachment
  • Inadmissible Evidence
  • J.O. fan letters and general enquiries; lunatics
  • J.O. Personal, A-M and N-Z
  • J.O. Productions; Randle Productions; Holly Productions; National Westminster Bank (J.O. Private Account)
  • J.O. Royalties, Performing Right Society, Fees
  • J.O. T.V. Plays: A Subject of Scandal and Concern, Very Like a Whale, The Right Prospectus, The Gift of Friendship, Ms or Jill and Jack, Little Lord Fauntleroy
  • Luther; Plays for England: The Blood of the Bambergs and Under Plain Cover
  • Lytton Strachey (screenplay); The Hostage and Charge of the Light Brigade
  • A Patriot For Me, May 1966
  • Penelope Gilliatt; Nolan
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Place Calling Itself Rome, Watch It Come Down, The End of Me Old Cigar
  • Royalties, Performing Right Society Royalties, Fees, Contracts, Agents
  • Time Present and The Hotel in Amsterdam; West of Suez
  • The World of Paul Slickey
A smaller series, Information about J.O., contains a miscellany of items including a list of published works (1957-73), astrological chart, and Osborne Productions receipt book dating from 1969-71. The Printed Material series contains a wealth of newspaper and magazine clippings, scrapbooks, and play programs. The Personal series includes bank statements, check stubs, posters, and photographs of Osborne, Penelope Gilliatt, Mary Ure, and stage productions of his plays. The last series, Works by Others, contains extracts from Robert Asprey's The Panther's Feast, Joe Orton's film script Up Against It, Tony Richardson's book Part of All sent to Helen Osborne for commentary, and a masters thesis by Dolly Beechman on Osborne's Look Back in Anger. Nearly two dozen of Osborne's published plays, some in foreign language, were transferred to the HRHRC book collection.
Generally, the collection is in good condition with few deteriorating elements, such as tape, present. The scrapbooks and newspaper clippings are in the most perilous condition, the majority being brown and brittle.

John Osborne Papers--Folder List