Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
The 'Angry Young Men'

How disaffected writers in the 1950s revolutionised British culture

Main image of The 'Angry Young Men'

In 1956, John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger (filmed 1959) introduced a bold new voice into not just the theatre but English culture in general. Critics labelled this and similar works by Osborne's contemporaries as being part of the 'angry young man' generation, taking its name from the title of Leslie Allen Paul's autobiography (1951).

The label was also applied to Kingsley Amis (Lucky Jim, 1953, filmed 1957), John Braine (Room at the Top, 1957, filmed 1958), Shelagh Delaney (A Taste of Honey, 1957, filmed 1961), Alan Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1959, filmed 1962), Keith Waterhouse (Billy Liar, 1959, filmed 1963), Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, John Wain, Colin Wilson and Arnold Wesker.

That said, Wesker denied being an angry young man in a review of Humphrey Carpenter's book on the movement, and some of his contemporaries felt equally uncomfortable with the label - though it didn't hurt their sales: most of the novels listed above were immediate best-sellers.

Although not an organised and ideologically coherent artistic movement as such, the work of the 'angry young men' was characterised by outspoken dissatisfaction with the status quo, particularly the so-called Establishment. Reacting against stifling class distinctions, their work championed the working classes, with Osborne's Jimmy Porter becoming a figurehead: an intelligent, articulate, university-educated man denied opportunities through being the 'wrong' social class. These opinions were usually expressed in direct, straightforward language, rejecting the self-conscious experimentation of the immediate prewar years.

By the late 1950s, their work had become established enough for the 'angry young man' label to seem somewhat limited. Most of the films that were made from their work were dubbed 'kitchen-sink dramas', a slightly patronising but nonetheless effective acknowledgement of how successful they had been in pushing working-class issues to the forefront of English culture.

Michael Brooke

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Billy Liar (1963)Billy Liar (1963)

Kitchen-sink realism meets airy fantasy in this much-loved Sixties comedy

Thumbnail image of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)

A borstal boy turns marathon runner in this adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's novel

Thumbnail image of Look Back in Anger (1959)Look Back in Anger (1959)

Richard Burton stars as archetypal disaffected youth Jimmy Porter

Thumbnail image of Lucky Jim (1957)Lucky Jim (1957)

Adaptation of the satirical Kingsley Amis novel about a disaffected lecturer

Thumbnail image of Room at the Top (1958)Room at the Top (1958)

The first 'kitchen sink' drama kick-started a British film revolution

Thumbnail image of Taste of Honey, A (1961)Taste of Honey, A (1961)

New Wave classic about a pregnant teenager facing an uncertain future

Related Collections

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Osborne, John (1929-1994)Osborne, John (1929-1994)

Writer, Actor

Thumbnail image of Sillitoe, Alan (1928-2010)Sillitoe, Alan (1928-2010)