In taking on the task of writing this authorised biography John Heilpern was at both an advantage and a disadvantage. On the one hand, enjoying the cooperation of Helen Dawson, the talented journalist who became the last of John Osborne’s five wives, he had access to notebooks and private letters. On the other hand, he had to be candid about his subject’s frequently bizarre and brutal behaviour, without forfeiting the reader’s interest and sympathy. That he succeeds in that task is greatly to his credit.
Doris Lessing, so wise and humane in her judgements of people, said of Osborne that ‘He just wasn’t very competent at life’. Because of that incompetence, he flailed around, making friends with his easygoing charm and then losing them with his frenzied vituperation. He pettishly rejected advice even from such