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Early days in Oxford

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John Osborne – successful but unhappy
Brian Aldiss Writer
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So there was another writer at the same time as Colin whose name was John Osborne. And John Osborne... in what year was it? His play, Look Back in Anger, was performed and was an enormous success. He had struck, as a kind of... one of these mysterious… mysterious changes that happen in society – it must be slightly to do with the generation change, but, in thinking in some way. And so, Look Back in Anger was wonderfully successful.

And he went on to do other plays that were successful, if not quite as villianously so as the first one. And he wanted to do a play of a book of mine that I'd recently had published, but he never had any luck because of censorship rules.

Anyhow, despite that, I got to know John and we became friendly. My memory suggests that he got married, but then became separated again, but certainly, at the end of his life, I went to see him. I can't think why, but we had got to know each other and so it seemed to me at the time that it was natural to go and see John. And there we were. He had a rather muddy little lake in front of his house, and one could think he was really quite successful and had had a successful career, contrasting with what I have said about Colin's career.

Anyhow, I went home after that meeting, which I had greatly enjoyed, and some days later, I had a five-page letter from Osborne, saying how wretched his life had been, and how disappointed he'd been, and really, with nothing to say for it. What does one do about this? Well, there's nothing much you can do. Of course, you can do what I did, you can write back and say, well, I'm sorry. Of course one was sorry.  Shortly after that, he died, but he's left with this kind of dilemma. Colin was not very successful, really, but nevertheless, running about on the Cornish shore he seemed very happy and was still published. And yet, John was quite different despite all his successes.

This, of course, brings into question of what one should do – or fail to do – about one's own career. But, it's always haunted me that you can have a shadow in life that, apparently, nothing can cure, and that was the case with John, as I judge it.

Brian Aldiss (1925-2017) was an English writer and anthologies editor, best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and West Buckland School, Devon, and served in the Royal Signals between 1943-1947. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford, an experience which provided the setting for his first book, 'The Brightfount Diaries' (1955). His first science fiction novel, 'Non-Stop', was published in 1958 while he was working as literary editor of the 'Oxford Mail'. His many prize-winning science fiction titles include 'Hothouse' (1962), which won the Hugo Award, 'The Saliva Tree' (1966), which was awarded the Nebula, and 'Helliconia Spring' (1982), which won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Several of his books have been adapted for the cinema. His story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', was adapted and released as the film 'AI' in 2001. His book 'Jocasta' (2005), is a reworking of Sophocles' classic Theban plays, 'Oedipus Rex' and 'Antigone'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Look Back in Anger, John Osborne, Colin Wilson

Duration: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015