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The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan Paperback – 16 Sep 2002

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (16 Sept. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747558418
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747558415
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.1 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 190,886 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.


"A diary crammed with Class A gossip." -- Guardian, 21st September 2002

"it is the incidental details, the confessions, the asides and the opinions that make the diaries so addictive." -- Daily Telegraph 5th October 2002

'Combines sex, style, philosophy, gossip, remorse, defiance, brilliance, anxiety and dread' -- Simon Callow, Sunday Times

'I must join the club in my praise of The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan' -- Steven Berkoff, Observer

'Like the dazzling Tynan himself, quite irresistable ... treat yourself to the diaries of this dashing and stoical hedonist' -- Washington Post

'No one, they say, ever erected a statue to a critic, by Tynan has bequeathed something even larger: a legendary life' -- Michael Billington, Guardian

'One of the publishing sensations of the year' -- Daily Telegraph

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By A Customer on 17 Jan. 2002
Format: Hardcover
It matters not a bit whether or not you have encountered the enigmatic Tynan before, you will find this collection of his diaries a thoroughly entertaining read.
This witty and irreverent collection (from 1970 until Tynan's death a decade later) not only gives the reader tales of Tynan's many famous friends (Princess, Margaret, Peter Cook, Richard Burton to name but three) but also an insight into his passions for theatre, the arts and the female bottom.
Tynan's extra-marital affair with the eclectic Nicole is riveting,at one point their exploits involve a bizzarre use of vodka, as are his Wildean quips and observations.
Tynan seems to emulate his hero Wilde during his final years in the USA by living and dying beyond his means. The destitute and near-starving family are somehow able to jet off to Europe for a party of month-long holiday, though.
All in all, Tynan's diaries are sad, truthful and curt but are also wry, entertaining and relevant. It's a great read that most will get through in little more than a single sitting. Essential.
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Format: Hardcover
Having read the Tynan letters and seen excerpts of the diaries in The New Yorker I was looking forward to the diaries. The diaries cover the 1970's to his death in 1980. This is the inner Tynan, where the letters are Tynan talking to the world, although it seems as if he kept this journal in order to make a record of parts of his experience he wanted known after his death. Several of the articles and reviews of the diaries paint a picture of desperation and escape into sado-masochistic sex, but although there are elements of Tynan's sexuality that seem almost infantile, I didn't see much evidence of anything really serious. It is hinted at in the introduction to Tynan's last days in California, where one of his daughters speaks of revelations from Kathleen that he has gone much further than before, and which Ken apparently answers with stories about Kathleen's various lovers (including Warren Beatty -- I remember Goldie Hawn being quoted as saying that all the women she had met in the movie business had experience with him in common). Outside of the mild s&m, there is very little in the diaries that couldn't be found in the diaries of an intelligent, articulate, and honest human being.
There is a great deal here about Tynan's inability to write. This is hard to figure out, because particularly in the letters he is always coming up with really wonderful ideas for serious writing projects, yet he is always looking for reasons not to work on them and takes refuge in projects which are short-term in nature and apparently of much less significance in the longer term. Then there are the movies, and the plays such as Oh! Calcutta! which may have seemed quite daring at the time, but which I don't think anyone will remember.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By turns sad, waspish, yet at times very amusing, this biased but nicely observed work records the later period of Tynan's life up until his untimely death at 53, hastened by chain smoking which exacerbated an underlying condition. Obsessive and hedonistic by nature, given to mildly sadistic sexual preferences and often controlling of the women in his life, KT was nevertheless also disarmingly frank and self-critical. He was an unapologetic self-publicist whom I first heard of when he used a four letter word on 'sixties late-night TV, an embarrassment for which Auntie made an apology via the next day's news bulletin. Tynan's theatrical reviews (in both senses) were brilliant, persuasive and influential, and could strike fear into impresarios, yet he seemed unable to achieve much financial success for his own works and he struggled for money later on. His time at the National was marred by his obvious dislike of Peter Hall's management - it gets pretty personal - and the trio of Hall/Olivier/Tynan seems to have been fraught with tensions. Observations on his life, sex, music, art and the state of the world run alongside accounts of foreign travel and meet-ups with old friends such as Phil Silvers, and latterly, there's a pervasive sense of doom. Well worth the read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this to read in conjunction with Michael Blakemores Stage Blood about the National Theatre. Tynans opinions are always worth sampling, he's perceptive and streetwise and witty and his thoughts shine a light from another direction and help to plump out the facts. It's a pleasure to read, erudite and articulate, if a bit too much spanking ! I don't think there is another critic like him or in his class. Arrived promptly and in good condition, thanks .
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9dbbd120) out of 5 stars 9 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c789c9c) out of 5 stars Rip roaring! 19 Nov. 2001
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
To paraphrase another wit: This is some of the best fun you can have with your clothes still on. Was Kenneth Tynan the most sophisticated and intelligent critic of his generation? It's hard to think that he wasn't, especially after reading these diaries. Not only does he give you a grand notion of what theater can be, but he also gives you a guided tour of the international theater scene in the late twentieth century. What a grand tonic his intellectually sharp viper tongue is in these days of spineless critics. Bravo!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c789dec) out of 5 stars Brilliant but frustrating. 19 Mar. 2002
By E. Hawkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Kenneth Tynan was a marvellous journalist. There is no-one writing for magazines or newspapers today (perhaps with the exception of Christopher Hitchens) who can so readily draw upon an apparently limitless well of wit, and do so in perfect sentences. All of his books are worth reading if you can find them second-hand: his early collection of drama criticism, 'Curtains', and the collection 'Profiles', are probably the places to start. For devotees of Tynan, who bemoan the paucity of his output in the last fifteen years of his life, the Diaries, splendidly introduced by John Lahr, can prove very frustrating. It seems everything conspired against Ken sitting in front of the typewriter and working his magic. His health was abysmal -- emphysema worsened by a heavy cigarette habit; he was preoccupied by a strange strain of socialism, which allows him to finish one entry with a call for action on the part of the workers and begin the next with an account of a tour through France, eating at three-star Michelin restaurants all the way; and he was rather excessively waylaid by a spanking-based dalliance with a mistress. That he managed to eke out portions of 'The Sound of Two Hands Clapping' and the profiles collected in 'Show People' is, on the evidence of the diaries, something of a miracle.
The diaries themselves make for very entertaining reading. There is plenty of celebrity gossip and, as befits writing not meant for public consumption, a good deal of invective. Sir Peter Hall, referred to throughout as 'P. Hall' is dealt with particularly harshly, and the relationship between Laurence Olivier and Tynan is fraught with ambiguity. There is also Tynan's almost comical political naivete; while there is certainly much that can be said for socialism and sexual liberation, Tynan's blatant hypocrisy (there are several references to his employing servants and nannies) and his very middle-class hatred of anything at all tainted by being middle-class, does not make for a convincing advertisement. I can only imagine how awful his 'spanking film', which he spends several years trying to find backers for, would have been. But these are, believe it or not, minor cavils, and actually add to the enjoyment of looking over Tynan's shoulder as he unburdens himself of his daily thoughts. (He certainly does not let himself off lightly, frequently despairing over his lassitude.) And the concluding entries, shadowed as they are by the reader's (and Tynan's) knowledge of his imminent death, are genuinely moving. I trust and hope there is more Tynan to be reissued soon. He's a fine companion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cee4018) out of 5 stars Quotable Lines on Every Page 16 Jun. 2013
By Stephanie Patterson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This volume of the diaries of Kenneth Tynan is hugely entertaining. Tynan, the theater critic for the London paper, The Observer, and the dramaturg of the National Theater in its early days contains lines worth quoting on every page.
Here's part of an entry I sent to several of my friends, Tynan is describing a conference he's attending: " Many of the panelists cease, on achieving panel membership, to speak English. Instead they speak panelese. Otherwise intelligent men, with delicately nurtured minds and impeccable intellectual credentials, are transformed by the proximity of a microphone into pundits, saying things like:
`Hopefully we shall be making some insightful and non-judgmental contributions in the area of relating to the paranoia of urban lifestyles and the banalisation of caringness.'"
I was hugely entertained and enlightened by reading this book. One caveat: Tynan enjoyed spanking women. He found it very sexually exciting and he loves describing various assignations. (Neither of his wives was a fan of this particular fetish). The accounts of his relationship with Nicole and others isn't shocking but it is boring.
If you sail over those passages, you'll find Mr. Tynan a witty companion for many evenings.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9cee9444) out of 5 stars Fascinating 15 Nov. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Even those, such as myself, who are not remotely interested in theater or the British social scene in the 70s should read this book. Tynan's diaries at times read like a novel...tart, clever, bitchy, and occasionally venomous. Tynan seems to have known everybody and has something interesting to say about all of them. But his most interesting character is himself; he pulls no punches and really excavates his soul. That is the true joy of reading this book. At times it's painful to read, at other times it's hysterical. But it is never boring.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c69a0c0) out of 5 stars Compelling 19 Jun. 2002
By Brian W. Fairbanks - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I remember Kenneth Tynan from an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show shortly before his 1980 death. Until this book, I was unfamiliar with his work. Now I see what I was missing.

Not only was Tynan a highly skilled writer of prose, but as a critic he saw things for what they were, even if the majority disagreed. He gives Warren Beatty's pretentious and mystifyingly overrated film Shampoo the swift kick to the rear that it deserves, and even finds a fault with Paddy Cheyefsky's Network that I had not detected prior to reading his assessment of the film in his diaries. Tynan also has his say on economics ("Inflation rides high and I believe intentionally" he writes in 1973) and a myriad of other subjects including his preoccupation with spanking.

Overall, these diaries reveal a melancholy soul who found some solace in writing about his life and its disappointments in his journal. Most published diaries promise more than they deliver. Not Tynan's. His diaries are a compelling read.
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