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Angry Young Men

Angry Young Men was a term apparently invented by the press to describe, firstly, various British dramatists who started writing plays in the mid-1950s and then, less commonly, certain novelists of the same period. The term was said to have come from a book by Irish writer Leslie Paul, called Angry Young Man, though there is scant evidence for this. It is also alleged that it was initially an offhand remark by George Fearon, press officer at the Royal Court, in reference to John Osborne‘s Look Back in Anger, the archetypal Angry Young Man play. Osborne states in his memoirs, Almost a Gentleman, that Fearon called him an Angry Young Man and then used this when talking to the press, who picked up on it.

The Angry Young Men were often working class and they were, of course, angry. They criticised the dull, drab, socially-conforming life of 1950s Britain. While not particularly political, they were definitely in favour of overthrowing the old order. In his book The Angry Decade, Kenneth Allsop defined their attitude as irreverence, stridency, impatience with tradition, vigour, vulgarity, sulky resentment against the cultivated. Colin Wilson‘s Outsider and Declaration, a collection of essays by Osborne, Wilson, Doris Lessing, John Wain and others, edited by Tom Maschler, were considered as manifestos for the group. Key novels of the group were Wain’s Hurry on Down, Kingsley Amis‘s Lucky Jim, John Braine‘s Room at the Top and Alan Sillitoe‘s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. All look very dated now and the films made of them generally seem more interesting. Nevertheless, they had considerable impact at the time and helped propel British literature into a more modern outlook.

Books about the Angry Young Men

Kenneth Allsop: The Angry Decade: A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the 1950s
Christopher Booker: The Neophiliacs: The Revolution in English Life in the 50s and 60s
Humphrey Carpenter: The Angry Young Men: A Literary Comedy of the 1950s
Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg (editors): The Beat Generation and The Angry Young Men
Robert Hewison: In Anger: Culture in the Cold War, 1945-60
Dale Salwak: Interviews with Britain’s Angry Young Men: Kingsley Amis, John Braine, Bill Hopkins, John Wain and Colin Wilson
John Russell Taylor: Anger and After: A Guide to the New British Drama
Colin Wilson: The Angry Years: The Rise and Fall of the Angry Young Men

Other links

Angry Young Men
Angry Young Men
The Angry Young Men Movement
In-yer-face theatre: John Osborne