The Angry Young Men

John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger opened at the Royal Court Theatre on Tuesday, the eighth of May 1956, and was hailed by the critic Kenneth Tynan as articulating some of the core feelings and attitudes of the younger generation. A few weeks later Colin Wilson's book The Outsider was published; it was praised by many critics, most notably Cyril Connolly and Philip Toynbee, as providing an insight into the predicament of man in the middle of the twentieth century. Osborne was 26 years old and Wilson 24. Journalists began talking of a new literary and cultural movement. The Angry Young Men had arrived. As many later commentators pointed out, this so-called "movement" was largely created by the media. Osborne and Wilson had little in common; they only met for the first time late in 1956. Journalists, however, began labelling other writers as being Angry Young Men, including Kingsley Amis, Stuart Holroyd, Bill Hopkins, Michael Hastings, John Braine and John Wain. It is true that there was no genuine movement; there was no agreed manifesto, no agenda for change. However, in their different ways, all these writers were dissatisfied with the society and culture of the 1950s. They could not be described as defenders of the status quo.

Although the Angry Young Men were far from being an homogeneous group, Wilson, Holroyd and Hopkins had a shared outlook on life in the mid-1950s. They regarded themselves as being existentialists. However, they differed from their continental cousins in believing that life had meaning and that this could be discovered in spiritual and mystical experiences. The journalist Kenneth Allsop called them "the law-givers" as they felt they had the remedy for the decline of civilisation, evidence of which they saw everywhere. They hated materialism, conformity, mediocrity and the rigid adherence to religious tradition which had replaced genuine spirituality. What was needed was a religious revival, but not in the usual sense: people had to be reconnected to, what William Kimmel calls, "the source of power, meaning, and purpose" that was in each of them.

Information and ephemera wanted

I have written about Stuart Holroyd and Colin Wilson and I continue to research their lives and ideas. My focus is on what they did and thought in the 1950s and to help me in my research I have become a collector of ephemera relating to them. I would love to hear from anyone with any letters, postcards, diaries, magazines, newspaper clippings, photographs, recordings, etc., relating to them. I would prefer originals, but am also interested in photocopies or electronic versions. At present I am especially interested in getting hold of a copy of Bill Hopkins's Spartacan manifesto (from about 1958) and any issues of John Rety's magazine Intimate Review (published around 1955). Please email me at with information about what you have got.

I would also love to hear from anyone with any recollections of Holroyd, Wilson or Hopkins, especially from the 1950s. Please email me at with your reminiscences.

© Antoni Diller (5 January 2017)