"For a person remains of consequence not so far as he leaves something behind him but so far as he acts and enjoys, and rouses others to action and enjoyment" – Goethe , Autobiography
If Kenneth Tynan deserves remembering, it sometimes remains unsure for what achievement. Tynan employed ferocious talent, wit, and drive to be the most conspicuous man of his generation. He lit up or sometimes merely dazzled the landscape of post-war British life. But what is one to make of a rocket after it has gone off, and the noises and brightly coloured lights passed? He was a pointman, enthusiastically guiding a dowdy, authority-bound Britain embarrassed at the thought of enjoying itself, into the riotous carnival of the swinging Sixties. He wasn't merely fashionable. Compelled to be stimulated by the very best of the newest sensations he set that fashion. "Life as a tireless pleasure-seeker through travel, sex, food, and drink as well as the arts" was his own death-bed estimation. Tynan shared Wordsworth's belief that in pleasure lay the "native and naked dignity of man". For almost twenty years, Tynan employed the same talent he required of the artists, writers and performers who so thrilled him. He revered them for their ability to "impose": "to dictate conditions - social, moral, sexual, political - within which one can operate with maximum freedom". Everything seemed sharper, more urgent, important and lively as a consequence of his attention. To not only make a weekly theatre review the repository of the most brilliant and exciting writing of its time but also to use it as a pulpit on the broader cultural and social issues may now seem almost unimaginable. That we now live with the consequences of his winning almost every single one of these arguments means that he can be dismissed too readily as being of purely historical interest. Yet even as he is now largely forgotten (and how Tynan would have hated that prospect) the vigour, passion, wit and precision of almost everything he wrote can still make him live again. "What turned me into a critic was the urge to commemorate these astonishing men and women, whose work would otherwise die with the memories of those who saw it.". And in the process of capturing his idols, Tynan has likewise preserved himself for posterity.,
His fantastic passion for theatre propelled his career. His theatre criticism was elevated by a skilled impressionism, refining great performances to a gesture or delivery of a line, and then delivering this insight in his own finely crafted phrases of such durable panache they have lasted over sixty years of heavy handling by other journalists. His theatrical devotion led him to demand the liberation of the theatre from censorship and petty middle-brow irrelevancy. His advocacy of the Angry Young men was capped by his fortuitous discovery of Brecht, incidentally leading to a unfortunately simplistic reputation as a slavish propagandiser for Socialist theatre. He fought for the establishment of a National Theatre, becoming its literary manager/publicity officer from 1963-1973. Throughout the 1960s Tynan defined fashionable culture as the epitome of "champagne socialism". As society shed its constrictions, so Tynan propounded the necessity of sexual liberation. He was already notorious as the first man to say "fuck" on British television, and his programme culminated in his production of the nude revue "Oh Calcutta". This was the zenith of his international fame. Tynan's health rapidly declined in the 1970s, as did his ability to realise any of his projects, while he struggled against repeated accusations of having become little more than a dirty-minded old fantasist. Despite his early death from emphysema in 1980 there were still posthumous explosions of publicity at regular intervals, as biographies by his wives and the publication of his letters and diaries established a new image of the private Tynan as an aggressive husband and a pervily compulsive spanking-fetishist. Yet still Tynan's trajectory is not completely exhausted, for the last decade has seen him reincarnated as a character on stage or television dramas. When trying to understand him it is easy to be distracted by the convoluted display of sex, mortality and glamour that pervades his life and work.
Tynan's desire for attention now survives in either the nostalgic superlatives of remaining colleagues and journalists or else the squalid notoriety wished upon him by the censorious. Tynan always knew his outspokenness and natural dandyism would make him a perpetual target. He eventually chose to employ his natural showmanship and capability for self-publicity to argue for social change. He became the poster boy for liberation, occupying the popular imagination in print and on TV. In person he resembled a faun, the nerves flaring under the taut skin and his lowered eyes apprehending his audience, as his conversation, impeded only by a stammer, was fuelled by a ceaseless succession of cigarettes, idiosyncratically held between the middle and ring finger to prevent staining. Always assessing how he could make an effect, he interrogated and tested his environment, sharing his enthusiasms, yet compelled to prove himself. His continual need to push the edge, be it in the company of friends, or when stretching the boundaries of society, could leave the social cause forgotten in the wake of outrage. His role as the glittering controversy-monger was spurred by his need to overcome repression, but as he won his arguments and examined himself for what areas remained for necessary transgression he would be driven into more extreme and dubious areas, leaving a distorted and possibly imprudent legacy.
Tynan seemed impervious, borne along by charm and wit, and braced against the worst of public opinion when bravely placing himself on the vanguard of often unpopular causes. Despite this display, his sense of self-worth and achievement was curiously vulnerable. A man believed to be one of the sharpest and most cruelly personal of critics suffered agonies when subjected to any criticism. His sensitivity and wit attracted many women, but once he allowed himself open to them, then he felt disproportionately exposed. Any slight, rebuff or demonstration of independence from his lovers could immediately be rewarded with irrational demands, tantrums, threats of suicide and even physical assault. Several times in his life he suffered breakdowns, and on each occasion his carapace of sophistication was cracked by eruptions of shame and insecurity from his childhood.
Kenneth Peacock Tynan was born on 2 April, 1927 in Hall Green, Birmingham. The name Peacock was not a display of affectation, for Kenneth was the illegitimate son of Peter Peacock and Rose Tynan. Peter Peacock was already married in Warrington, the Tynan's his secret family. Kenneth claimed that he was ignorant of his family's secret until his father's death in 1948, and had been contemptuous of his father when growing up. Peacock was already an old man when Kenneth was born, and proved himself a dull, staid man, with only a taste for occasional humiliating practical jokes at his son's expense for relief. The proud and precocious young Kenneth felt he deserved better than Peter as a father. When Kenneth discovered the truth he was further embittered that he had been lied to and fooled. He also felt cheated of knowing who his father really was, though he never made efforts to contact the Peacocks. In contrast, Rose was an over-protective and doting mother. She lavished affection on her son, and with Peter's money, Kenneth was readily indulged and spoilt. Tynan would always be conflicted by his need to win sufficiently ample love yet compelled to test its limits.
Perversely, there could hardly have been few better origins than Birmingham and his parents to provoke Tynan's comprehensive and determined rebellion. As a child he set about becoming his own creation, intent on discovering and inhabiting a world more lively and rewarding than Birmingham. His first published essay in his school's magazine expressed horror at all the insignificant, undistinguished and ordinary people. This was the impetus for his life-long talent-snobbism. Noel Coward and the writers of "The New Yorker" set a benchmark of wit for the young teenager already addicted to the glamour and excitement of the theatre and the music hall. The adult critic of later years would build upon the early confident opinions and descriptions he recorded of comedians and Shakespearean actors. Every star attracted him, and as a devoted cinema-goer, he subscribed to all the film magazines and avidly collected the autographs of celebrities. His persistence earned the attention of early mentors (or more suitable father figures) such as Orson Welles and the theatre critic James Agate. It was to set the pattern of his sense of equality with the performers he idolised, where Marlene Dietrich would one day be his bridesmaid.
The schoolboy was a determined exhibitionist. When he received a new bicycle he would ride round around on it nude to celebrate. A school debate on the motion "This House Thinks The Present Generation Has Lost The Ability To Entertain Itself" was abruptly stopped because of the fourteen year old's advocation of masturbation. An involvement in the local dramatic societies, where he soon was soon arranging his own productions, was the passport to what Bohemian life and, just as importantly, women Birmingham could afford. "Birmingham is a cemetery where sex is regarded as slightly worse than grave-robbing as an occupation" was his later summation of his origins. In all this though there was tremendous work, for he was a gifted scholar, winning prizes, and dedicated to correct his ignorance in all areas.
Tynan escaped from his parents and Birmingham to Oxford University in 1945. He went with a professional determination to cultivate the reputation as a personality at Oxford. Oxford was full of an older, more sober generation of returned ex-servicemen, but post-war austerity would have little effect upon Tynan, buffered by a larger than usual allowance from his father. Erudite, pleasure-loving, attention-grabbing, and lavish in his life-style, Tynan would be a character to rival the fantasies of "Brideshead Revisited" in his gold satin-shirts and suits of bottle-green or purple doeskin. He commanded the Oxford literary magazines, the theatre, the Union Debating Society and also the social scene, even charging admission to his parties. Wilfully shocking and amusing, his self-regarding prestige angered and provoked in equal measure, to the point of his being burnt in effigy by the heartier students on one occasion. Arousing such antagonism from people who thought he merely displayed deplorable conceit was only further proof of his effects' success. Such deliberate bravado arose from his belief that the inhibiting fear of society's disapproval must always be overcome. How far he would go in his efforts is now a matter of public record. Was ever woman wooed in this humour? "I am the illegitimate son of Sir Peter Peacock, I have x amount of pounds a year. I will kill myself or die when I reach thirty, because I will have said everything there is to say." Yes, for Elaine Dundy married him in 1951. In its ferocious defiance of any possible conditioned shame, Tynan's declaration also hints at an avoidance of the constraints of responsibility.
Campus stars of this stylishly egotistical type usually burn out, leaving little legacy other than their legend, but Tynan had approached Oxford as only one rung on his career ladder. He had made approaches to the London theatre establishment and had already been published in "Vogue" before graduating. It only remained for a one-off pretence of flamboyant homosexuality to eliminate any threat of military service, then Tynan was ready to become the theatre director to rival Peter Brook. For the next couple of years he alternated between local repertory companies and touring productions. At the same time Tynan was issuing a steady stream of reviews and articles about the contemporary theatre. This work, informed by his diaries dating back to childhood, all contributed to his first book of writings about the stage, "He That Plays The King", published in 1950.
The book was a tribute to great performances and personalities on stage and an argument for equally great theatrical criticism. The book of a writer barely 23, there was no reactionary snobbism, only the belief that whatever is good is worthy of appreciation. Tynan celebrated not only the great Shakespearians like Olivier and Gielgud, but comics like Sid Field and Danny Kaye, and forgotten titans like Donald Wolfitt. Tynan put his readers in the stalls, and with a skill the equal of his performers, made them see how he saw these feats of outstanding acting. He admires them for the consciousness of their craft to elicit an emotional response. The best acting he admires consists of tricks, "a unique piece of technique, a special catch of the voice, tilt of the head…what phrase-making is to poetry; within a good formal contour they are luminous gems." Tynan would excel at catching with precision these "tricks". Performances were often extricated from the narrative of the play so Tynan could focus on its particular elements.
If as he argued,"the function of a work of art is to enable us to see through the eyes of others" then Tynan's reviewing set an artistic task. His idea of the artistic impulse was to interpret human situations as "idem in alio: the same thing in another form". The specific effects of a performance were the writer's and actor's interpretative attempts to arouse emotions, and likewise it was Tynan's own aim to transmit his impressions onto the page and elicit in his readers those same powerful responses. A man who worked so hard to effortlessly strike an effect in his prose and person ("Rehearse xmas dinner" is an instruction to himself in his journal) was perfect for summarising and sketching the effects of the greatest actors and performances of his time. There was a dandy's attention to the telling trifle. "The surfaces of life, audible and visible, are flawlessly captured: every moment a sudden, eccentric but obviously right gesture catches your eye, yet each fragment fits smoothly into the general mosaic." (If in this there is a slight hint of Pater's injunction to "burn with a hard gem-like flame", then before the discipline of the newspaper editing desk, Tynan had an inclination to the florid rhetoric of 1940s Neo-Romanticism. ) His conception of the perfect performance is matched by his practice of reviewing. Like Olivier, "he will seize on one or two phrases, which properly inserted will unlock its whole meaning." His writing avoided fuzzy metaphors about essence, believing that an exacting attention to surface details would capture the piercing moment: "an actor's power is in his voice and appearance: we do not pay to see his soul".
It is power at this time that Tynan worshipped. The measured diction of a Gielgud is a lesser spectacle than an Oliver who batters, tramples, smashes and insists. It is the virtue of verse acting ("sublime") over verse speaking ("beautiful"). Donald Wolfitt's "voice, instead of caressing the syllables, whips them up to a frenzy, and hits a frightened dilapidated whining note". Tynan the audience willingly submits to these extravagant performances but Tynan the critic also wants somehow to identify himself with them. The grandeur of Shakespearean kings and heroic is an explicit rejection of middle-class provincial values: "what we demand of our theatre is not a deeper insight into man, but a change of human scale . . . not deeper emotions than those of life, but emotions broader, more florid, more spectacular in their impact". Some self-projection may also be suspected in Tynan's explanation of his attraction to the most audacious displays of showmanship as a taste for naughtiness: "it is surprising how many of the most exciting and exhilarating performances are written off by the profession as naughty, outstrip(ping) the classic norm of part-interpretation, import(ing) ingenuities and subtleties of his own…naughty as a schoolboy is who asks unanswerable questions, a possible rival".
Criticism ought to be equal to such great performances, written with "great flair and cocksureness". It must be as passionate in blessing and condemning, written in a rhetoric as dramatic yet controlled as the actors themselves. This was not a book written from a position of critical repose, of someone content to look on from the gallery. It was a highly personal book written to announce the arrival of a new forceful participant in the theatre. Tynan's closing section highlights certain of Tynan's obsessions and also a particular weakness as a writer. It is Tynan's attempt at a disquisition on tragedy, wittily supported by a deft array of literary allusions chosen from throughout the history of literature. For Tynan, tragedy and all great art are suffused in a human response to death. Tynan expatiates on death in many aspects, the fear of which validates heroism, as well as the Romantic rapture in which each transient moment must be hallowed against death. But deprived of the concrete specifics of language and action upon which to lavish his attention, the necessary scaffolding of theory rapidly rusts into a charming but banal Neo-Romantic haze. There are already demands for a bolder drama, in the belief that "life mimics art, not art life….if light plays, small and mean are written and acted, fashions and manners will tend to ape them… we might call back a departed spaciousness to our pattern of living". It is a Paterian declaration of revolution, written with theatrical manners in mind that will later be reconstrued in Tynan's particular concept of socialism.
It was Tynan's sensitivity to rebuff, that would force him into a career of theatre criticism. He projected the appearance of success, and so any public perception of failure was an agony as humiliating as the failure itself. As a young boy, when he had slipped during dancing lessons, he had immediately abandoned the dance floor there and then. Similarly embarrassed after his summary dismissal as the director of Cocteau's "Les parents terrible" in 1951, his crisis of confidence was so extreme he felt permanently disqualified from ever continuing as a director. "I had a choice between hanging back as an onlooker and plunging in as a participant – i.e. continuing as a director. I took the safer course and became a full-time critic. That is why, today (the early 1970s), I am everyone's advisor and nobody's boss, not even my own." His estrangement from personal participation in the theatre was capped by a disastrous performance as the Player King in Alec's Guiness's "Hamlet" (Guiness would later appropriate Tynan's mannerisms and appearance for his role in "The Ladykillers"). His famous journalistic motto would be "Be light, stinging, insolent and melancholy". It sublimates into the necessary detachment of the bullfighter in combat the frustration of a proud, sensitive child, who needs to exert control over his environment. Tynan still knew his worth as a writer and soon found willing newspapers and magazines. It is probable that Tynan's lasting achievement is greater as a critic in the influence he asserted, than anything he might have achieved in any individual productions. The theatre's short-term loss would eventually prove theatre's greater gain.
Many at the time thought otherwise. A contemporary symposium of the leading theatrical reviewers, "An Experience of Critics" (1952), collectively portrays a class of comfortable gentlemen in their late middle age, hoping only for a genial night's entertainment, exercising a low-impact irony in the knowledge that theatre had ceded its mass-appeal and relevance to the cinema. Everything they insisted a critic ought not to do was to prove everything that made Tynan so memorable. "Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds" was the other motto above Tynan's desk. Today's readers would recognise his slashing, emotive, personal and attention-demanding manner in the writings of the latest youth-in-revolt cult 'zine. Before there was even rock n' roll, Tynan wrote with the pill-popping urgency of the fieriest young "Rolling Stone" Turk (incessant cigarettes and occasional amphetamines regularly propelling him to his deadlines).
Tynan's wit and enthusiasm made his the section newspaper readers turned to first. With a clarity of focus and purpose to match the performers' discipline, his was the lively but exacting record delivered to an eager readership unable to attend these noteworthy productions. In his admiring fascination for the stars, he was compelled to unpick and define the mechanisms and nature of their respective glamour. There is a joy in his coining of epigrams on actors. Gielgud in modern dress had "the general aspect of a tight, smart, walking umbrella." Charles Laughton walked "top-heavily, like a salmon standing on its tail". ''The World of Suzie Wong'' was ''a world of woozy song''. Executed with as much uncompromising delight, there was an equal, if more morally dubious, pleasure in his critical pans and drubbings. Orson Welles as Othello was "Citizen Coon". "As Lavinia, Vivien Leigh (in "Titus Andronicus") receives the news that she is about to be ravished on her husband's corpse with little more than the annoyance of one who would have preferred foam rubber". "Sir Laurence Olivier began his film of 'Hamlet' with the statement that it was 'the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.' At one point Mr Welles's new appendage started to leave its moorings, and 'Moby Dick' nearly became the tragedy of a man who could not make up his nose". "The balance of the play ("A Hatful of Rain") demands that Polo should be a well-meaning simpleton. Mr Wanamaker, who is nothing if not complex, makes him every bit as neurotic as his junkie brother, and appears, what with his battery of anguished smiles, exasperated shrugs and despairing cries, to be acting out the part to a group of exceptionally dense children.". The equivocal Gielgud spoke for his profession when he admitted, "It's wonderful, when it isn't you". More puzzling is Tynan's sensitivity to the theatrical professions' own assessment of him as vicious and destructive. Tynan brazenly seemed to believe that as they purred at his praises and acute descriptions, so they should also warmly receive their public spankings when effected with such mastery and flourish. "He taught us that there was a way of attacking the theatre from a position of love" was the assessment of later theatre critic Sheridan Morley. Tynan was never the critical sadist his victims wished him, but his book on the art of tauromachy, "Bull Fever" (1955), broached the appeal of algolagnia, of sexual pleasure in the infliction of pain.
His outspoken irreverence readily provoked controversies, even from his readers. When the "Evening Standard", his current employer, solicited comment from more traditional theatre fans enraged at his demolition jobs to boost the paper's publicity, it ultimately resulted in the offended Tynan leaving the paper. Almost immediately Tynan was offered the prize post of critic for the "Observer". There was a short furious campaign by a federation of West End producers to lobby against Tynan's appointment, but Tynan ascended to his bully pulpit by the end of 1953. If Tynan was that cliché of the critic as a man thwarted in his desired career, then he campaigned for the staging of plays that shocked and excited, that dared admit everything of contemporary international theatre he would have attempted himself. He was soon notorious for pricking the bubble of complacency enveloping the respectable commercial West End, typified by the productions of H.M. Tennant and "Binkie" Beaumont. They and their stalwart matinee favourites like Anna Neagle, Michael Dennison and Dulcie Gray were unused to his sharp disrespectful manner. Middle-aged and middle class, their brand of entertain failed even as effective escapism. Good theatre should stimulate and thrill, but the only reaction they provoked was a terse boredom:
"If you seek a tombstone, look about you; survey the peculiar nullity of our drama's prevalent genre, the Loamshire play. Its setting is a country house in what used to be called Loamshire but is now, as a heroic tribute to realism, sometimes called Berkshire. Except when someone must sneeze, or be murdered, the sun invariably shines. The inhabitants belong to a social class derived partly from romantic novels and partly from the playwright's vision of the leisured life he will lead after the play is a success - this being the only effort of imagination he is called on to make. Joys and sorrows are giggles and whimpers: the crash of denunciation dwindles into 'Oh, stuff, Mummy!' and 'Oh, really, Daddy!' And so grim is the continuity of these things that the foregoing paragraph might have been written at any time during the last thirty years. Loamshire is a glibly codified fairy-tale world, of no more use to the student of life than a doll's house would be to a student of town planning. Its vice is to have engulfed the theatre, thereby expelling better minds."
Tynan's column was a rallying point for all the excitement denied the London stage. He regularly visited the other great cosmopolitan hubs of the theatre, Paris, Berlin and New York. Broadway was in renaissance. There was a wave of new musicals whose vibrant spectacle and songs Tynan welcomed unlike most of the snobbish English critics. American theatre was reinvigorated by a new generation of explicit playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Their works could not easily be transported to Britain, however, because these plays were alive with a sexuality and brutality impermissible to the official censor, the Lord Chamberlain. The best of contemporary American theatre suffered arbitrary cuts or was else banned because of unacceptable content. It only served to confirm Tynan's arguments that censorship was one of underlying causes of the British theatres anaesthetisation, stifling any attempts at controversy. The spectre of the Lord Chamberlain inhibited every British playwright before pen was ever put to page. Tynan's youthful rejection of a hidebound aesthetic developed into a necessary agitation for larger social upheaval. His desire for a livelier, more truthful theatre exploring everything led him to identify himself with the social causes these new plays espoused. The climax would be his return one night to a Paris hotel to declare, "I have seen 'Mother Courage' and I am a Marxist."
Tynan's dramatic conversion was the ultimate tribute to theatre. If, as he argued on numerous occasions, one judges a theatrical experience to the degree that it changes or modifies one, then Tynan's accession to political demands was the achievement of the drama of the 1950s. In Brecht's propagandising, Tynan found an energy which had been denied to the English stage. Brecht's was a new stage-form sharing Tynan's own insistence on a commitment and importance for the theatre. It was the innovations in performance and production offered by Brechtian theatre which convinced Tynan. "Brecht, rejecting illusion, teaches detachment, employing a sort of stylised shorthand whereby the actor makes no pretence to be a real 'character' expressing 'emotion', but declares himself instead a professional performer illustrating a general theme. 'You are in a drawing-room,' says Stanislavsky to his audience, 'witnessing life.' 'You are in a theatre,' says Brecht, 'witnessing actors.'" It was a reconfiguring with political content of the heroic acting Tynan had worshipped in his youth. Tynan's declaration in his hotel room is of a piece with his nineteen year old self comparing witnessing Frederick Valk's Othello to surviving an explosion of a hydrogen bomb. It was the power of Brecht's dramas, and the awesome impact of their lead performances which Tynan celebrates in his reviews. By accident Brecht had given an explicitly political direction to Tynan's impassioned crusade for a more realistic theatre.
In retrospect, there is the danger of making Tynan a purely politically-motivated critic. To reduce him to a programmatising symptom of history is to adopt a socio-historical view of the theatre blind to Tynan's primary concern for the events on the stage. His crusades were personal, visceral and selfish. His campaigns to remove the reactionary fetters laid on the theatre are animated by his greed for a liberated theatre's ability to supply the maximum of possible sensations. Tynan argued for the removal of censorship and the introduction of controversial subject matter with the same fervour that others argue for the legalisation of some previously illicit stimulant. Tynan wrote as performance junkie, in need of a new buzz, and Tynan always was prepared to call theatre his drug. "This week in the theatre has been so painfully drugless that I feel I can only obliterate it from my mind by reviewing, instead of the things I saw, the things I would like to have seen". In more considered tones, it constitutes his famous statement, "A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening." If Tynan would regularly prove himself ahead of the curve in prophesying what the necessary developments in theatre should be, then it was because he was preternaturally alert to the absence of some thrill he ought to be getting. Similarly, his finest estimations of the lacklustre record of a particular commercial season or genre condense Tynan's fatigue of their clichés into witty, jazzy exhalations of dissatisfaction, his jokes achieving everything the production failed.
Tynan would remain an ardent socialist for the rest of his life. That despite all the evidence of the world around him it required a production of a play to convert Tynan to Marxism may suggest some fundamental triviality. His lifestyle certainly remained as glossily appealing and his circle of friends as famous and intermittently royal. He praised a theatre whose implications were socialist rather than merely Socialism as art, so in his life he practised his politics as socialism amidst the socialising. Come the 1960s, he was the archetype of "radical chic", the committed leftist lunching with Redgraves and the Revolutionary Worker's Party, then dining with Princess Margaret. Throughout the '50s, as he took stands on artistic matters so he also demonstrated a personal courage on controversial social and political issues. To be young and artistic was to automatically be far in advance of the bourgeois mass in critical and social awareness, and that all conventions demanded necessary rebellion. There was the almost obligatory participation in C.N.D. marches, but he was also proud of standing bail for a friend arrested for homosexuality, repeatedly argued for legalisation of homosexuality, and would be called before a Congressional committee to account for his apparent anti-Americanism.
His criticism only suffered slightly, since his attention was still compelled by a performance's power, spirit and technique. Contemporary plays were now occasionally analysed in terms of "stating cases" or "social problems", though that is a failing that may also be found in those same plays. He was never the abject ideologue some made him to be. He was eager to approve a play if it endorsed his political attitudes, as earlier he had condemned a brand of stagecraft which had failed to satisfy him. He suffered bouts of discomfort about the craven monarchism of the tragedies he had earlier praised, and could make of "Merchant of Venice" an incipient indictment of capitalism. Earlier he had rejected a trend for Christian verse dramas because their solution to human problems was submission to irrational conservative forces; now he found himself antipathetic to the spate of absurdist theatre by writers like Ionesco and Pinter whose characters were paralysed by similarly irrational but tenebrous intimidations. In each case it is a matter of preferring plays in which the characters take action instead of merely acquiescing to their surroundings and situation.
If propaganda and politics were necessary energies in the theatre then they were also appropriate to reviews of that theatre. New plays now provoked comments more appropriate to a "Tribune" editorial in his demonstrations of art illuminating society. Tynan knew there was an irony that his arguments were only novel because of the English theatre's anachronism. Tynan's commitment was unfashionably belated; at a party an editor of the "Partisan Review" could reply to him, "Mr Tynan, your arguments are so old that I've forgotten what the answers are." For good or ill, he had little inclination or ability for programmatic thought (as already proven in "He That Plays the King"). Ultimately, Tynan's commitment was to a politics of individual hedonism, of social fairness that would encourage a life as enthusiastic and ebullient as the theatre itself. "To restore this spirit of rapture to Socialism, this morning exhilaration, is something the theatre can help to achieve. Socialism should be a gay, international affirmation, a joint declaration that we are all equal members of a gigantic conspiracy to outwit the abysses of night and silence. It is a lighting of festal bonfires."
John Osborne's "Look Back In Anger" (1956) was the beacon heralding the generation of British playwrights who would reject Establishment values. "Look Back In Anger" was the first play of a new author, and was only the third production of the new English Stage Company at the Royal Court. It had received mixed reviews at best, but the privilege of the last word lay in the possession of the reviewers for the Sunday papers. Tynan's testimony in "The Observer" was the most forceful, and as "Look Back In Anger" has survived so too has Tynan's ecstatic salutation. "All the qualities are there, qualities one had despaired of ever seeing on the stage - the drift towards anarchy, the instinctive leftishness, the automatic rejection of 'official' attitudes, the surrealist sense of humour, the casual promiscuity, the sense of lacking a crusade worth fighting for and, underlying all these, the determination that no one who dies shall go unmourned." At last, Tynan had found a playwright as vocal in his frustration and protest as himself. The dominating lead with a "flair for introspection, his gift for ribald parody, his excoriating candour, his contempt for 'phoneyness', his weakness for soliloquy and his desperate conviction that the time is out of joint, Jimmy Porter is the completest young pup in our literature since Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." Tynan hailed Osborne as a spokesman for the young against taste, good form and discretely muted sentiment. Tynan's review famously concluded, "I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger. It is the best young play of its decade." The praises Tynan lavishes on the emotional Porter and Osborne are those Tynan would wish for himself. It is not hard to discern in his demand to love "Look Back In Anger" a plea to love Kenneth Tynan. Tynan's was the awed delight of a narcissus who had found himself made glorious on the stage.
Tynan's self-projection was furthered encouraged by "Look Back In Anger"'s mirroring the war of emotional attrition Tynan's own marriage was suffering. "Mr Osborne's picture of a certain kind of modern marriage is hilariously accurate; he shows us two attractive young animals engaged in competitive martyrdom, each with its teeth sunk deep in the other's neck, and each reluctant to break the clinch for fear of bleeding to death." Osborne portrayed a wife whose weapon was a deliberate neglect of her husband's explosions compounded by the knowledge that her desertion would destroy him. Tynan and Dundy had established themselves as one of society's glamorous pairings, but their relationship soon faltered on Tynan's compulsion to humiliate his lovers by caning their bared buttocks. Elaine could not submit to this and since Tynan therefore regularly sought sexual partners who could provide satisfaction, she suffered greater subsequent humiliations and hurt. Though Tynan was the aggressor, it was always in Elaine's control to continue or discontinue their marriage. The marriage settled into a tempestuous routine of separations, agonised declarations of renewed fidelity, betrayals and accusations. Though Cyril Connolly might enquire "Was Elaine a trial?" and Tynan reply, "No, more of a jury,", still Connolly would be one of the lovers Elaine took in retaliation against Tynan. Tynan would insist his shame and injury were the greater when her infidelities were known, though his friends already knew about his fetish. Kingsley Amis, another of Elaine's lovers, referred to him as "an old-fashioned British flogger". A taste for sexual violence only further cemented Tynan's attraction to Osborne's work. Osborne's depiction of a successful marriage titillated by sadomasochism in "Under Plain Covers" was rewarded by Tynan's observation that "An anal-sadistic relationship need not preclude love. This is perhaps the most audacious statement ever made on the stage." When looking for a playwright to adapt Lope deVega's "A Bond Honoured" Tynan decided Osborne was a match for its sin, sex and perversity. Given his mutinuous energies, Osborne was not the sort to forgive favours, and after their friendship collapsed, he never faulted on opportunities to vituperate Tynan in print and ridiculed him at length in his play "The End of Me Old Cigar".
There still remained the realisation of a National Theatre. In 1949, the National Theatre bill had been passed and £1 million guaranteed for a building. Little had happened publically since, other than Tynan's appearance in full mourning dress over the foundation stone to renew public support. In 1962 the government finally approved the construction of the National Theatre with Sir Laurence Oliver as its director. Tynan had been vocal in his disappointment in Olivier's recent artistic directorship of the prestigious Chichester Festival Theatre. Few would have the reckless integrity to denigrate a man whom they knew they would shortly approach for potential employment. Still Tynan wrote his disapproving review then wrote to Olivier congratulating him on his new post and proposing himself as a literary guide for the new venture. "How shall we slaughter the little bastard" was the affronted Olivier's response. But his wife, Joan Plowright, convinced Olivier that Tynan's erudition, internationalism, and identification with the modern movement in theatre would all be assets for the National Theatre. Olivier accepted Tynan, his letter concluding "God – anything to get you off the Observer". This acceptance of Tynan in a spirit of aggrieved professionalism set the tone for Tynan's working relationships at the National Theatre. Olivier insisted on Tynan's appointment in the face of Theatre's establishment board, who in eventually recognising his necessity as the "Anti-Fudy-Duddy" only confirmed their own complacency. Questions were even raised in Parliament whether Tynan was "a fit and suitable person to hold such an influential and important position", in view of his "part in making kitchen sinks, lavatories, drugs, homosexuality and crime standard ingredients for success in the West End?"
In 1963 Tynan became the Literary Manager, a title he created for himself, helping chose plays, acting as in-house critic, promoter, and educating the public about the National Theatre's works. "Our aim is the best of everything" was his summary of the National Theatre. It would not compete with the Royal Shakespeare Company, instead offering the "spectrum of world drama". He compiled a reference list of the world's 400 greatest plays to assist planning a repertoire. He gave the National Theatre artistic direction and catholicity, but as neither an actor nor director his control and influence was tenuous. Of the 79 plays performed during Tynan's decade at the National Theatre, 32 were his idea and another 20 chosen with his collaboration.
It was vital to Tynan that the National Theatre was successful not only critically but popularly. To vindicate its existence it needed to appeal to the majority, not an intellectual elite. For Tynan, show business was always a fundamental ingredient of the theatrical feast. He would revive Noel Coward's early plays, hire John Mortimer to adapt a Feydeau farce, approach TV dramatists, and commission Tom Stoppard. In return, John Osborne would accuse him of "intellectual spivvery", while National Theatre colleagues saw him as a crass Broadway producer too ready to cut anything that didn't work for the sake of bums on seats. When the director George Devine invited Beckett to the final rehearsal of his "Play", Tynan would argue that the playwright's suggestions and influence were damaging his own play. Tynan insisted Beckett was too indifferent to the audience's response, that Beckett's was a cloistered theatre, "I believe in neither a director's nor a writer's theatre, but a theatre of intelligent audiences . . . I thought we had outgrown the idea of theatre as a mystic rite born of secret communion between author, director, actors and an empty auditorium". The archives of the National Theatre reveal hundreds of memos in which Tynan's detailed observations and advice are intended to clarify and make concrete the particular effects of the actors: a backseat driver by way of the dramaturg at Brecht's Berliner Ensemble.
For all his efforts, with only a portakabin for an office, Tynan's immersion in the works of the National Theatre means that we have few lasting records of his or the National Theatre's achievements. There are the logbooks he wrote about the processes of producing "The Recruiting Officer" and Olivier's "Othello", in the tradition of Brecht's "Theaterarbeit" and "Modelbucher". Every production had its detailed programme by Tynan, setting outs its history and critical interpretations, when theatres previously had only listed the cast. As an effective advocate and educator Tynan is largely lost from sight. Yet his most spectacular single performance in his role for the National Theatre only served to publicise himself. On 13 November 1965 Tynan participated in a live TV debate about stage censorship on the late night satire programme BBC3. When asked if he would allow a play to be staged in which sexual intercourse was represented on the stage, Tynan replied "Well, I think so, certainly. I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word 'fuck' would be particularly diabolical, revolting, or totally forbidden. I think that anything that can be printed or said can also be seen". Tynan had previously used That Word uncensored in an "Observer" report of the Lady Chatterley Trial, in which the arguments for sexual and literary censorship by the prosecutor had been analysed by Tynan like a stage performance. This time though there was a national outcry. BBC switchboards were jammed, headlines made, four motions tabled in Parliament, and self-appointed moral watchdog Mary Whitehouse suggested he needed his bottom smacked. In retrospect Tynan's comment portends the later scandal of "Oh Calcutta!".
Tynan received the almost unwavering public support of Olivier, upon which Tynan was wholly reliant at the NT. In private Olivier might rebuke him, "I like you, I like having you with me, apart from it rather tickling me to have you with me, but you can be too fucking tactless for words . . . you should realise your gifts for what they are and your position for what it is and like a good jockey not always let these things have their head". Theirs was an affectionate but fraught relationship, each wary as to who was submitting to whom. Olivier's apparent deferral to Tynan might be explained by Olivier's capacity for being impressed by erudition and cultural fashions, to which Tynan gave him easy access. Tynan would be caricatured as an Iago murmuring malicious trendy nonsense into the stalwart Olivier's ear or as a hump deforming the noble theatrical peer, but Tynan's admiration of Olivier was long on record. So too was his apparent campaign of denigration against Olivier's first wife, Vivien Leigh, complicating Tynan's and Olivier's personal relations. Tynan had proved insusceptible to her in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and felt that "hers is the magnificent effrontery of an attractive child endlessly indulged at its first party." When husband and wife performed together, Tynan criticised her ("more niminy-piminy than thundery-blundery") for subduing and compromising Olivier's talent. It was John Osborne's opinion that Tynan thought Leigh "was personally hobbling Olivier's flight into great destiny".
Olivier's style of acting may now be somewhat unpalatable to modern tastes, but in Tynan's hero-worshipping reviews we can see exactly how it struck a contemporary. Yesterday's tragedian's "violent personal expressiveness of romanticism" easily becomes today's hamminess, as Tynan had himself earlier forsworn the bluster of Donald Wolfitt. "Olivier is a player of unparalleled animal powers, miraculously crossed with a player of extreme technical cuteness. The guttural precision of his voice would be unmistakeable at a Cup Final, and its hoarse rallying note is the most invigorating sound in our theatre. He has a smoky moodiness of visage, a smoulderingness which always suggests danger and dynamism caches." "We have the wagging head, the soaring index finger, and the sly, roaming eyes of one of the world's cleverest comic actor, plus the desperate, exhausted moans of one of the world's master of pathos". Tynan admires Olivier for gestures and interpretations so flamboyantly risky other more prudent actors would never dare consider them let alone attempt them. He has "chutzpah – that means cool nerve and dangerous effrontery combined and the ability to communicate a sense of danger. He has never developed the thick social skin of conformity beneath which most of us hide our more violent or embarrassing impulse. With him they are still close to the surface, unashamed and readily accessible." Olivier derived an amoral strength from his refusal to judge the characters he played to match Peter Brooks's innovation in teaching "his 'unsympathetic' characters to project themselves from their own point of view, not from that of the inevitably jaundiced heroes". Tynan and Olivier devised a narcissistic and self-dramatising Othello. It is the animalistic quality of Olivier's voice to which the thanatophile Tynan particularly responds: "the actor swaying with grief, his voice rising like hair on the crest of a dying animal" ("Macbeth"); "Now, shattered himself, he crumples and out of his gaping mouth come disorganised moans that slowly reveal themselves as melody. Archie the untouchable is singing the blues". ("The Entertainer"); "I never hoped for so vast an anguish. The two cries were torn from beyond tears or shame or guilt: they came from the stomach, with all the ecstatic grief and fright of a newborn baby's wail." ("Oedipus Rex").
Olivier's support was invaluable when Tynan reached brinkmanship with the NT Board. Working within a National institution, and therefore implicitly an establishment figure, Tynan was at pains to act as its internal opposition, urging it into controversial territories. Tynan accounted the NT's staging of Brecht's "Mother Courage" as a victory for socialist rebellion, even if it was without his preferred lead of starlet Anna Magnani. The NT had repeatedly balked at performing new dramas on contemporary topics, like Peter Brook's "US". In Tynan's eyes the NT had not attempted anything so daring as Charles Wood's "Dingo" which had exposed and subverted the brutality and complacent aftermyths of WWI. Tynan believed he had found a work to compare in "Soldiers" by the German playwright Rolf Hochhuth. To have staged at the NT a play questioning the Dresden bombing and implicating Churchill in the assignation of General Sikoski would have guaranteed political and dramatic outrage. However, all the drama was to occur offstage in a very public battle of wills. With the Chamberlain's connivance on certain legal points, the NT board declared the play "unsuitable". For Tynan it automatically became a point of principle and he went into open revolt against what appeared as coordinated Establishment suppression. Olivier had supported the staging of "Soldiers" and ensured that Tynan retained his post against renewed calls for his dismissal. Tynan was only able to produce "Soldiers" (with last minute rewrites by Tom Stoppard) independently in 1968 after the abolition of censorship by the Chamberlain. After a year of public controversy over the play's historical facts and the struggles to produce it, the production itself was almost superfluous, though it ran for a respectable three months. Tynan had his will in staging "Soldiers" but it irreparably damaged his working relationship with the NT board. His continuing struggles to assert himself and retain his job were compromised by the diagnosis he was suffering from incurable emphysema as well as the failing of Olivier's health. Although Olivier was invariably supportive of Tynan, Tynan was constantly anxious about the extent of Olivier's commitment to him. For all his ambition, Tynan was frank and lacked guile, so when Peter Hall succeeded Olivier as director of the NT, Tynan was consummately outmanoeuvred and left in 1973.
Tynan's work at the NT constrained his latitude to propagandise about the direction of theatre, but the libertarian agenda he embodied had moved on to the morality of sexual freedom and the permissive society. For Tynan, it was an almost natural development, since all his prior liberating crusades had achieved their goals. His fight against censorship would now become a deliberate assault on ingrained prudishness. The argument for sexual fulfilment liberated from social repression led to Tynan's association with "Playboy", then still in its campaigning and philosophising days. Essays on the delights of bottoms, women's undergarments, pornography and masturbation belaboured his fetishes and failed to arouse any interest. In his earlier demolition job on the Chamberlain, "The Royal Smut Hound", Tynan had argued for the sexual liberation of the theatre. "Erotic stimulation is a perfectly legitimate function of bad art as well as good, and a censor who bans a stripper is behaving just as illiberally and indefensibly as one who eviscerates a masterpiece". Erotic cabaret was available on the continent, but was yet again denied to the English stage. Tynan had anticipated both the Angry Young Men and the Satire Boom of the early 1960s, but now he would assume the practical burden of "devising" his own nude revue. Tynan's choice of title, "Oh! Calcutta!" was inspired by surrealist painter Clovis Trouille's callipyginous panorama of a broad female backside, "Oh! Calcutta! Calcutta!", a French pun on "O quel cul t'as!" ("Oh! What an arse you have!"). Tynan solicited material from John Lennon, Samuel Beckett, Jules Feiffer, and contributed his own sketch, "Who: Whom" (a phrase from Lenin occasionally used by Tynan to define the audience's domination by the events on stage), exploring the politics of a sadomasochistic relationship. The content of the show aside, Tynan's involvement was the main attraction of the enterprise. "For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed having erections, and I have always been grateful to all those people – whether artists, writers, performers or private individuals, to whose exertions I owe them". "Oh! Calcutta!" first opened in New York City in 1969, since it was still subject to possible prosecution in Britain as depraving and corrupting, though it would eventually be staged internationally. The show never quite achieved his hopes, but Tynan's name was irrevocably associated. Some critics condemned the show as outright pornographic filth, but the general tone of abashed coyness was most forcefully expressed in the puritan embarrassment of Clive Barnes. "Voyeurs of the city unite, you have nothing to lose but your brains. 'Oh! Calcutta!' makes 'The Sound of Music' seem like 'Hair.'" As a nice night's entertainment, it would go on to be the fifth longest running show on Broadway, although Tynan only received a fraction of the show's financial success since it was divided between so many contributors.
In the 1950s he'd been the man who'd known how to make the world give him what he wanted, but by the 1970s Tynan seemed lost with only recourse to sexual exploration as means of personal and professional gratification. At the start of the new decade Tynan had returned to keeping a diary, "the last refuge of whatever ego one has". Much of it is the usual melange of the past day's affairs, with loving retreats into reminiscences and anecdotage, preserved jokes and convoluted puns, overcast by Tynan's sense of decline. The diary was also Tynan's explicit attempt to work out his thoughts on his sexual compulsions and how he might satisfactorily act them out. Tynan had married again in 1967 to Kathleen Halton, but by the turn of the decade this second marriage had adopted the same pattern as the first. Though still living with Kathleen, Tynan had also taken as a mistress a young actress "Nicole" who enjoyed submitting to his cane. Intentionally or not, this sexual triangle reproduced his father's double life. Since Tynan had honestly appraised Kathleen of the situation, he seemed to believe this rendered his infidelity blameless. Willing himself free of shame, Tynan's accounts of sexual playacting are frank but oblivious to the consequences upon his marriage. His observations commit the unexpected literary sin of boredom, for his write-ups of their spanking sessions are detailed but spiritless while his defences of spanking are humourless, arch proselytising (''I have never derived any pleasure from spanking black girls: it conflicts with my beliefs in civil liberties''). This narrowness is compounded by his insensitivity to Kathleen's reasons for jealousy. Her sense of rejection estranged their marriage, but Tynan seemed ignorant of anything in his power to remedy the situation. "Nicole at last confesses that, contrary to earlier protestations, she has had several brief affairs in my absences during the past two years. This news, on top of what I already know (and suspect) about Kathleen's affairs, leads to a curious conclusion: though accused on all sides of infidelity, I am the only one of the principles in this situation who has remained sexually faithful throughout".
The mid-70s saw Tynan fail in all his assorted authorly attempts at serious investigations of sexual matters. Several years of research, writing and even a course of Reichian therapy went into an uncompleted study of Wilhelm Reich. Reich's theories tried to marry Freud and Marx, sex and socialism, arguing that sexual repression by reactionary authoritarianism was the root of personal and social maladjustment, with relief coming from the liberating powers of orgasmic Orgone energy. Reich had fled Nazi Germany for America where his crackpot practices only elicited further persecution from the American government. Tynan's solicitations for contributions to an anthology of masturbation fantasies by famous writers were declined by W.H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, Norman Mailer and Vladimir Nabokov. Tynan also wrote a film script exploring an explicit sadomasochistic menage a trois, but he could not raise the production capital. Eventually, he returned to the scene of his last success, and attempted a sequel to "Oh! Calcutta!" in "Carte Blanche", to which he again contributed a sketch, "Triangle in Six Takes". Again, the 1976 production failed to realise his expectations of sexiness or wit.
As his health failed him the energetic restlessness so vital to Tynan's years of achievement seemed to have dwindled into a need to express his libido and have it applauded. He wondered if his campaigns to legitimise pornography were an obscure bid for lost physical vitality, or "whether sex had filled the career vacuum." Some mild obsession is understandable when his diary records with surprising candour how much effort it took him to achieve sexual pleasure and often he suffers as a result. Wayward experimentation could lead to reckless ventures like administering a vodka enema, with expectably agonising results. When he wasn't suffering of his own volition, his body was failing him, a burst blood vessel leaving his penis resembling an hourglass and impeding his capacity for erection and ejaculation. These embarrassing and painful mishaps were private, but Tynan had gradually acquired the reputation as a dirty old man, ripe for easy journalistic mockery. Sneers from "Private Eye" were expected, but an editorial in the "Times" by its faintly saintly editor William Rees-Mogg accusing Tynan of being depraved and corrupted by the pornography of cruelty was not. For once it was Tynan's turn to be outraged, and his furious threats of legal action won a retraction. While Tynan may have been prompted by concern for his public reputation, the editorial may just have struck a moral sensitive spot about his private sexual practices. His health and his career were offered temporary respite when Tynan moved with his family to California in 1976, in the hope of easing his emphysema and to write a series of lengthy profiles for the "New Yorker".
His first three profiles were of Mel Brooks, Tom Stoppard, and Johnny Carson, figures prominent in 1970s film, theatre and TV, but his last was about the 1920s film star and iconic sex symbol, Louise Brooks, "The Girl with the Black Helmet". It was a return to Tynan's infatuated youth, informed by all the experience of his adulthood. Several years earlier, Tynan had dressed in drag to impersonate "the only star actress I can imagine either being enslaved by or wanting to enslave; and a dark lady worthy of my poet's devotion". The essay transports Tynan from a bland hypoallergenic California, through Brooks's erotic-insouciant career on screen, to meet her in person, a 71 year old recluse bedridden by arthritis. The pair spent three days in the haze of each other's cigarettes, as Tynan uncovers "the simple, unabashed hedonist, whose appetite for pleasure is so radiant that even when it causes suffering to her and others we cannot find it in ourselves to reproach her". In Louise Brooks, Tynan discovered the same refusal to live by censorious strictures as her most famous role: "Lulu's death is in no sense God's judgment on a sinner; she has lived her life in accordance with the high moral imperatives of liberty, and stands in no need of redemption". Brooks is Tynan's kindred spirit, similarly awed and excited by the stars and stories of Hollywood, a naturally enthusiastic writer, who has worked to free herself of the shackles of sin and guilt. Tynan would write in private correspondence to her, "A little piece of me and a little piece of you will always belong together", and this near-courtship would eventually be commemorated in the play "Smoking with Lulu". As the amoral thrills of sex and murder run through her films, so they are reconfigured in Tynan's essay as candid remembrances of past seductions and their costs as mortality encroaches. Tynan celebrates though and refuses either to pity her or construct a cautionary tale, instead analysing his attraction to her rebel spirit and its projection in her films. The most fervent praise Tynan can offer Brooks revisits the 1946 plaudits of his favourite Olivier performance as Justice Shallow: "Most actresses tend to pass moral judgements on the characters they play. Their performances issue tacit commands to the audience: "Love me", "Hate me", "Laugh at me", "Weep with me", and so forth. We get none of this from Brooks, whose presence before the camera merely declares, "Here I am. Make what you will of me."
The writing of these "New Yorker" essays was an almost heroic achievement as his life slowly but painfully neared its end. Despite the move to California his emphysema worsened, and there was an increasing number of intense relapses into hospital with intubations. Tynan suffered from a rare enzyme deficiency destroying the elasticity of his lungs and narrowing his airways, which combined with his smoking made emphysema inevitable. His weakened state complicated other physical ailments, with occasional lapses into incoherence or unconsciousness. Tynan was caught in an ever decreasing spiral as money and health problems chased after each other, complicating his ability to work. Self-habituated to write with a cigarette, he could only continue to earn his money when smoking, and the oxygen cylinder adjacent only confirmed he was deliberately worsening his condition. Efforts on a last piece about Olivier stalled when their relationship faltered because of Olivier's equivocation over what he necessarily owed Tynan personally and professionally. As British journalists eagerly forecast his imminent death, Tynan's only saleable commodity remained his life, unable to sign a contract for his autobiography without providing a doctor's note that he would live long enough to complete the book. By 1979 he had the highest level of carbon-dioxide and the lowest level of oxygen in his blood ever recorded at his hospital. His journal reveals him increasingly angry, desperate and frightened, hoping for some respite in which he can rediscover himself at peace and decide on some means to a future. At last, after a final collapse, he died at St John's Hospital, Santa Monica on 26 July 1980. Buried in Oxford, his memorial service was held at St Paul's in Covent Garden, the actor's church.
Constant premonitions of death were the stimulus for Tynan's lifestyle and his writings. "I quite simply seek enjoyment because I remember about thirty times between waking and sleeping and always while I'm asleep that I'm going to die. And the more scared I am, the more pleasure and enlightenment I want to squeeze from every moment. So as a profoundly death-faring man, I'm capable simultaneously of the highest delight and the deepest despair." This is not quite the conventional moralising tone that "timor mortis" usually elicits from most respectable writers. The spectacle of bull-fighting with its showmanship and emphasis on technique exemplified Tynan's concept of drama as a ritual of gestures by which we resolve ourselves to death. "By western standards, the spectacle of a man hounded and suffering, defeated by society or baffled by the universe, constitutes tragedy from which we derive a refinement of our knowledge of humanity." "Good drama, for me, is made up of the thoughts, the words and the gestures that are wrung from human beings on their way to or in emerging from a state of desperation". In his journal there is a morbid fascination, both his and ours, as he scrupulously records with all the wit remaining to him his self-disgust, his physical debility, his sense of spiritual dissipation and lost promise. In limning his professional and personal decline, Tynan made a better case for indictment as a derelict voluptuary than his detractors ever had. Yet there is also much present joy and humour, as he immerses himself in the ephemeral scenes of past enjoyments, compulsively revivifying them with the same skill as his memorialisations of his stage and screen heroes. "Comedy, perhaps, is merely tragedy in which people don't give in". As he commended frankness to Marlene Dietrich in her autobiography to win her readers' trust, so in his journal Tynan forgoes safety to expose himself in everyway imaginable. "Anyone who arrives at self-knowledge through desperation is the raw material for a great play" was the conclusion of the 23 year old Tynan. The 53 year old Tynan only just let such insights elude him, by too eagerly reading a lesson for Humphrey Bogart and his many gangster deaths cribbed from Seneca's Stoicism: "Accept the fact of transience, don't panic in the face of morality, learn to live with death. Live close to trouble and care nothing. Live outrageously, if you can carry it off".
That Tynan did carry it off and has left a suitable record, is because like the great individualists to whom he paid tribute, his was a "High Definition Performance". "H.D.P" was Tynan's equivalent of the elusive "duende" of the great bullfighters. "H.D.P. means the ability – shared by great athletes, sportsmen, bullfighters and conversationalists as well as stage performers – to communicate the essence of one's talent to an audience with economy, grace, no apparent effort, and absolute hard-edged clarity of outline." It is a definition imbued with Zen, a concern of Tynan's dating back to the early 1950s. Zen's lessons are of living in the moment, of the joys of spontaneity, of a life of freedom, of an escape from the knowledge of guilt and sin. Tynan needed to be accepted yet remain independent of any possible adverse judgment. To live in the moment means only sensuality without consequences or responsibilities to one's surroundings. One cannot be held to account for the treatment of family, or ever seem ridiculous, squalid, or vulnerable to censure or shame. It is telling that Tynan's exposition of socialism was deliberately independent of the complex matrices of socio-industrial relations, and was instead synonymous with liberation and necessary transgression. At Tynan's memorial, Stoppard told the mourners that for his generation Tynan was part of the luck they had. Even Tynan's harshest enemies cannot help but admire the precision of his best theatre writings, while still deploring his manners, his life, and celebrity-snobbism, mistakenly believing that the former was extricable from the latter. Though undoubted effort and art went into his best 800 word theatre columns, his writings would never have mattered were it not for those same animating, messy impulses that so battered his life.