These are selected pages from the script of Look Back in Anger as it was submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office in 1956. Until 1968 it was mandatory for all new plays performed in public theatres in Britain to be assessed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office prior to the granting of a licence for performance.
The Lord Chamberlain was the moral judge of British drama. Though very few plays were ever refused a licence, it was common for the Lord Chamberlain to demand the removal of obscene language and other material regarded as unsuitable for public consumption.
What are the blue pencil markings?
From the late 19th century, and possibly earlier, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office used blue pencils to mark passages in scripts for potential censorship. Blue pencils were traditionally used by editors of books and newspapers to mark up copy for printers, as the colour did not show up in early reprographic processes.
Blue pencils were not only used to censor plays; they were also used to censor letters sent home by British troops in World War One and World War Two. Blue pencil was so commonly associated with the practice of redaction that it has become a metaphor for censorship.
What parts of the script of Look Back in Anger did the Lord Chamberlain’s Office object to?
In the script of Look Back in Anger, the passages marked with blue pencil refer to, among other things, defecation noises, homosexuality, pubic hair and sex. After further deliberation the Lord Chamberlain’s staff decided to permit some of the references.
The decisions made by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office often appear quite arbitrary, an accusation that was increasingly being levelled at them during the 1950s and 1960s by those opposed to censorship. In Look Back in Anger one of the allusions to homosexuality was cut while the other was allowed to remain. The line ‘She’s as tough as a night in a Bombay brothel, and as hairy as a gorilla’s behind’ (f. 66r) was replaced with ‘She’s as rough as a night in a Bombay brothel, and as tough as a matelot’s arse’, even though ‘arse’ had been disallowed elsewhere in the script.
Sometimes the process of revision enabled Osborne to think up funnier lines. In Act 2, Scene 1 he changed the disallowed song title ‘There’s a smokescreen in my pubic hair’ (f. 62r) to ‘You can quit hanging around my counter Mildred ‘cos you’ll find my position is closed’.
Were any additions made to the script?
Two loose pages have been stapled into the script as a late addition to Act 3, Scene 1 (f. 106r, f. 107r). They include an extra music hall song about marrying ‘a certain little lady’ from a middle-class family, which Jimmy sings pointedly to Helena, echoing the mocking song he sings to Alison in Act 2, Scene 1. Music hall songs are a recurring feature in Osborne’s work; references to this old-fashioned form of popular entertainment usually symbolise the death of English traditions.
- Full title:
- Lord Chamberlain's Plays: Look Back in Anger by John Osborne, annotated by the Lord Chamberlain's Office
- Manuscript / Typescript / Draft / Script
- John Osborne
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- Held by
- British Library
- LCP 1956/8932
- Article by:
- Dan Rebellato
- Exploring identity, 20th-century theatre, Gender and sexuality
Dan Rebellato explains how John Osborne's Look Back in Anger changed the course of British theatre.