Kenneth Tynan

A Life

Dominic Shellard

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The first in-depth biography of theater genius Kenneth Tynan, looking behind the celebrity myth to show how Tynan’s eloquence and fervor helped change the course of theater in Britain and America

Kenneth Tynan (1927–1980) lived one of the most intriguing theater lives of his century. A brilliant writer, critic, and agent provocateur, he made friends or enemies of nearly every major actor, playwright, impresario, and movie mogul of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. He wrote for the Evening Standard, the Observer, and the New Yorker; served eleven years as dramaturg for Britain’s newly formed National Theatre, and spent his final years in Los Angeles. This biography offers the first complete appraisal of Tynan’s powerful contribution to post-war British theater, set against the context of the fifties, sixties, and seventies and his own turbulent life.

Dominic Shellard highlights Tynan’s writings of 1952–1963, when the coruscating young critic came to prominence. He discusses how Tynan took his place at the vanguard of the new realist movement, helped to establish subsidized theater, fought censorship, and assisted in the creation of such groundbreaking theatrical phenomena as Oh Calcutta! in1970. The book reveals both the public and private Tynan, an outspoken, explicit, and sometimes savage critic who became one of the most influential theater figures of the twentieth century.

Dominic Shellard is Reader in English Literature at the University of Sheffield.

“Dominic Shellard’s excellent biography succeeds in correcting the balance by concentrating on Tynan’s writings, and the political, social and cultural times in which they occurred. . . . Shellard brings [Tynan] back with all the immediacy and charm and wit intact.”—Michael Smith, The Age


"Dominic Shellard’s book breaks new ground. . . . The earlier, hopeful Tynan deserves to last, and Dominic Shellard has done a good job of showing why."—John Gross, Sunday Telegraph

“What Shellard achieves in a massive and masterful biography is the first three-dimensional study of Tynan in the context of his own work.”—Sheridan Morley, Literary Review

"Dominic Shellard’s new biography . . . restores Tynan to his rightful place, not as impresario or controversialist or sexual deviant, but as writer, one of the greatest theatre critics this country has ever produced."—Anthony Quinn, Daily Telegraph

"In Dominic Shellard’s biography, Tynan springs back into his true proportions. The result is engrossing, a triumph of scholarship, taste and flair. Shellard’s touch is light, deft."—Alastair Macaulay, Financial Times Magazine

"[An] excellent biography, so cool, so impeccably researched, and so often very moving."—Keith Baxter, Spectator

"An intellectual biography. . . . A useful chronicle of a bygone time when drama critics had the potential to help shape the cultural life of a nation."—Robert Brustein, New Republic

"A thorough, detailed account of Tynan’s place in the history of 20th-century English theater, establishing his originality, contributions and achievements."—Lloyd Rose, Washington Post

“[An] absorbing new biography. . . . Essential reading for theatre lovers.”—Theatregoer

“[A] handsomely organized and written biography. . . . This book restores Tynan to the pantheon of the British, and world, theater. Furthermore, it is a delightful, often laugh-out-loud read.”—Nagle Jackson, The Times of Trenton (Sunday)

Finalist for the 2003 George Freedley Award given by the Theatre Library Association
ISBN: 9780300187533
Publication Date: July 11, 2003
428 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4