Kenneth Tynan

By: Mark Kingwell
April 2, 2012

I witnessed the take-no-prisoners genius of KENNETH TYNAN (1927-80) long before I knew his name, when a daring middle-school teacher screened his adaptation of Macbeth (1971, d. Roman Polanski) for the awed eighth-graders of J. B. Mitchell Junior High, Winnipeg, in 1976. Mumbling witches with their aged breasts bared! Sword-severed limbs loosed in splatters of blood! Did that really happen? Yes, it did. Notorious as the first man to say “fuck” on the airwaves of the BBC — the satirical magazine Private Eye, mocking his fashionable stutter, would label it the first three-syllable four-letter word — Tynan was a master of what he liked to call “heresy, pure heresy.” But he was far more than a provocateur. The golden boy of post-war Oxford, a camp dandy in the style of Harold Acton (fact) and Anthony Blanche (fiction), Tynan parlayed his popularity, charisma and intelligence into the most influential theatre career of the age. First as an acerbic and nimble critic, later as a bold literary manager, he shaped English theatre in its last real flowering, championing the likes of Osborne, Beckett, and his own ground-breaking nudie revue, Oh! Calcutta. His diaries, meanwhile, make for the most riveting reading: parties, drugs, affairs, sparkling ideas, endless cigarettes (they killed him), and his very vocal Swinburnean devotion to spanking. A rather poor husband, yes, but a fuh-fuh-fucking excellent writer.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Marvin Gaye, Serge Gainsbourg, Maria Sibylla Merian.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist (1924-23) Generation.


HiLo Heroes, Literature