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The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan Paperback – Oct 2002

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Paperback, Oct 2002
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1st Paperback Edition. edition (Oct. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582342458
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582342450
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3 x 20 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,582,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan reveals afresh the sparkling, undimmed loquacity of the man who turned theatre criticism into an art form in its own right. It is also a desperate, harrowing tale of a tormenting talent on a tragic trajectory, described by Tynan's second wife Kathleen, in her superb biography The Life of Kenneth Tynan as "electrically charged, but not earthed". Magnificently edited by John Lahr, himself a cherishable talent whose own authoritative New Yorker profiles are collected in Show and Tell, the journals cover the decade he spent in England and, latterly, California from 1971 to 1980, when he was buoyed up by commercial success of his sex revue, Oh! Calcutta, yet could not secure funding for a proposed movie project. A self-styled ergophobe, in writing with a stammerer's eloquence of his blockage, he still failed to budge it, and so occupied himself with starry socialising, political rumination, and the well-turned sentence. He describes his complicated relationship with Sir Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre, where he worked as dramaturg; he recounts inadvertently watching explicit pornography in the presence of Princess Margaret, the moment saved only by Peter Cook's ad-libbed funny-voice commentary; and he relishes the discovery that his career as a national critic had been initiated entirely due to a mistaken identity. Most affecting, though, are his appreciation of performers, always preferred by Tynan to the words themselves. Phil Silvers performing after a stroke, the vaudevillian genius of Max Wall, and the charm of Jacques Tati are all fulsomely described, and with commensurate flair.

And then there's the sex. As Tynan's health deteriorated (hereditary emphysema, exacerbated by heavy smoking), his anally-fixated sado-masochistic sexual demands, already related in his first wife Elaine Dundy's autobiography, Life Itself!, increased, as did his preoccupation with death. In truth, the diaries were his Green Room, a rehearsal space for the aphoristic nuggets with which he studded his public writing. Too intellectually uptight, perhaps, to be an artist, Tynan's tragedy was to realise this, and these gilded, chastening diaries allow us a voyeuristic, thrilling glimpse at the ever-absorptive reflection of this grand, inconsolable narcissist. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Perhaps the most brilliant and feared theatre critic of his generation, Kenneth Tynan was responsible for 'Oh! Calcutta!', and was also a notorious eccentric, who enjoyed wine, literature and women and the first person to say the 'f' word on television. A larger-than-life character, he "combined the soul of a artist with the descriptive skill of a journalist". His diaries, as edited by John Lahr (senior drama critic of the New Yorker and writer of a definitive study of Joe Orton), have been eagerly awaited and, sure enough, they prove as colourful and controversial as the legendary figure who originated them. He knew everybody, and everyone wanted to know him, on both sides of the Atlantic. He was at the centre of the theatre and film worlds. Such was - and is - Tynan's stature and influence that the publication of this collection must rank as something of an event. Whether talking about the National Theatre, psychoanalysis, his much-talked-about sado-masochistic relationships, or just watching Muhammad Ali fight on TV, he is never less than riveting. For many this will be an essential purchase - Tynan still wears well.<br /><br />The yards of column space that have already been expended on these diaries tend to dwell (rather disapprovingly) on Kenneth Tynan's sado-masochism. The Oxford-educated boy genius turned theatre critic, hitherto best known for daring to use the F-word on television, will now go down in history as a compulsive disciplinarian and pervert. It's true that sex suffuses these diaries, whether it be the famous spanking sessions with mistress Nicole (and sundry other pick-ups) the live sex shows in Hamburg or the porn movies, watched, with deliciously guilty pleasure, in the unlikely company of Princess Margaret. But there is much more besides, for these diaries are packed to the hilt with colourful anecdotes (smoking pot with Peter Sellers, hanging out on the set of Roman Polanski's Macbeth), wry observations, bon mots, quotes from friends and from whatever Ken happens to be reading. A veritable treasure trove of titbits, funny and frank by turns, they also provide a vivid record of the time (the early 1970s) when they were written the films, the plays, the politics, the big sports events (of Muhammed Ali's defeat by Joe Frazier in 1971, Tynan writes: 'there is breathtaking hubris he reminds one of a beautiful butch queer savouring the ecstasy of being beaten up and rolled by a bit of rough trade'). Alas, by the end, a rather depressing picture emerges, of a gifted but hopelessly narcissistic aesthete, cigarette permanently dangling from effete fingertips, who never achieved his full potential, worn down and eventually disillusioned by the soul-destroying struggle to raise finance for his (largely unrealized) film and theatre projects. In the end he was 'just a critic', but a truly great one, with a rare gift for wordplay. John Lahr's pedantic (and sometimes inaccurate) annotations grate somewhat, but otherwise, this is a journal to rank alongside the Alan Clark Diaries and the Letters of William Burroughs in its brazen shamelessness, its love of language and razor-sharp wit. (Kirkus UK) --various --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I can't forgive Ken for wasting himself 4 Nov. 2004
By Gooch McCracken - Published on
From THE DIARIES OF KENNETH TYNAN: "Whenever we solve the problem of dreams, we shall not be far from solving the root problems of human identity and creativity. Has anyone noticed the really inexplicable thing about our nightly narrative tapes? They have suspense. This occurred to me last night, when I was involved in a Hitchcock-type chase dream---in which, I suddenly realised, I did not know what was going to happen next. I did not know who would be lurking behind the next door; and I wanted desperately to know. What part of one's mind is it that harbours secrets unknown even to the unconscious? (For in dreams we are surely privy to the unconscious in full flood.) The theory that in dreams we tap a source of energy outside the individual psyche is powerfully reinforced by the presence of suspense."

After Tynan left his job as dramaturg at the National Theatre, he pretty much floundered around for the rest of his life. I wish he had gone back to doing theater reviews. But I guess he was burned out on theater. Maybe he grew bored with the very medium of theater. He said he was profoundly bored with everything ("I shall die writhing in apathy"), but I'm not too convinced of that claim. I wish he had felt an artistic duty to his audience and had then carried out that duty. While reading this thing, I had an overwhelming urge to slap that cigarette out of his mouth and that hairbrush out of his hand and to sternly command him to "do do that voodoo that you do so well".
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Cautionary Tale 24 Aug. 2007
By Suzinne Barrett - Published on
Verified Purchase
I suggest reading this as a cautionary tale: how a man with so much promise, talent and intelligence, saddled with insecurities and a taste for hedonism, left him broke and feeling like a failure at the end of his life. How terribly tragic. But this book is definitely not a downer.

Knowing that Kenneth Tynan was a British theater critic, I had reservations about delving into this. I thought it could be a very dry read. Instead, it turned out to be laugh out loud funny, with some serious dish about famous people (the man knew EVERYBODY) and at the same time introspective and melancholic.

This book is not for everybody, but for those with a love of brilliant prose and serious wit, the rewards are rich.
Sparks and Spanking 25 Feb. 2009
By Inner City Intellect - Published on
Great read. Lovely reminder that television and film were once kept alive and kicking by veterans of vaudeville and British musical hall. It's easy enough to say that Tynan was a pervert but even there he writes eloquently about his adventures in spanking and such. A time machine back to an era of style, substance and serious acting. The Marlene Dietrich/JFK anecdote worth the price alone.
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