Ten years after his success with Look Back in Anger, John Osborne had a spectacular flop at the National Theatre with A Bond Honoured (1966), his adaptation of a 17th-century play by the Spanish writer Lope de Vega. Osborne was furious about the terrible reviews and sent telegrams of protest to eight prominent theatre critics. This telegram to The Times critic, Irving Wardle, shows that Osborne had not lost the cantankerous spirit which had seen him labelled as an ‘Angry Young Man’ in 1956.
How does Osborne use language and form for comic effect?
Osborne defended his adaptation of A Bond Honoured in this telegram. His anger is so exaggerated that it tips over into comedy. He finishes by declaring ‘FROM NOW ON ITS [sic] OPEN WAR ALL THE WAY AND NOT ONLY FROM ME BUT FROM ALL OF US WHO TAKE RISKS UNLIKE YOU’ (f.66r).
Telegrams were the text messages of their day. They were normally brief as senders paid a standard fee for the first dozen words, with an additional cost for each extra word. This message would have cost Osborne over £3 to send, which is more than £50 in today’s money. Osborne’s deliberate use of punctuation for effect would have contributed to the expense since commas, full stops and quotation marks had to be spelt out:
YOU SEEM COMMA INCREDIBLY COMMA TO THINK THAT A PLAY CAN BE WRITTEN BY A SERIOUS DRAMATIST TO SATISFY QUOTES THE ENGLISH APPETITE FOR SADISM UNQUOTE STOP (ff. 64r–65r)
What happened next?
Irving Wardle was undaunted by Osborne’s challenge. He replied: ‘I don’t know what you mean by open war, but I’m told you used to be a boxer, and if you fancy a gentlemanly British punch-up I’m more than happy to oblige’. At this point, Osborne’s enthusiasm for a fight faded. He responded: ‘I’M BIGGER THAN YOU BUT I’M SURE YOU’RE STRONGER SO LET’S FORGET IT’.
 Ian G Wilkinson, British Greetings Telegrams and Telemessage Special Occasion Cards (Chesham: Ian G Wilkinson, 1991), p. 58.
 John Heilpern, John Osborne (London: Chatto & Windus, 2006), p. 326.
- Full title:
- Correspondence of Irving Wardle: surnames Me-O
- Telegram / Manuscript
- John Osborne
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