Looking back in anger

Hilary Mantel

  • Almost a Gentleman. An Autobiography: Vol. II 1955-66 by John Osborne
    Faber, 273 pp, £14.99, November 1991, ISBN 0 571 16261 4

One of the more extraordinary revelations in A Better Class of Person, the first volume of John Osborne’s memoirs, was the fact that the author was proposed as the leading man in the 1948 film The Blue Lagoon. The teenage Osborne by his own account had a hollow chest and acne, and a loin cloth would not have shown these off to advantage; the opportunity to loll among the palms with Jean Simmons went to the Welsh actor Donald Houston. Houston was blond and wholesome, and had a long career, much of it in B-movies; it’s interesting to think that John Osborne might have enjoyed it in his stead. Osborne as the fourth intern in Doctor in the House, alongside Dirk Bogarde, Kenneth More and Donald Sinden ... Osborne as a Spartan, as a rugby fan, as Dr Watson ... He would, you feel, have snarled a hole in the screen.

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