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Tony Harrison

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Title: Tony Harrison  
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Subject: Royal National Theatre, Fram (play), Prometheus (1998 film), St Mary's Menston Catholic Voluntary Academy, Beeston, Leeds
Collection: 1937 Births, 20Th-Century British Poets, 20Th-Century Dramatists and Playwrights, 20Th-Century English Poets, 20Th-Century English Writers, 21St-Century British Poets, 21St-Century Dramatists and Playwrights, 21St-Century English Writers, Alumni of the University of Leeds, English Dramatists and Playwrights, English Male Dramatists and Playwrights, English Male Poets, English Poets, Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature, Living People, People Educated at Leeds Grammar School, People from Gosforth, People from Leeds
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Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison
Born (1937-04-30) 30 April 1937
Leeds, County Borough of Leeds, England
Occupation Poet, dramatist, librettist
Education Classics
Alma mater University of Leeds[1]
Notable awards European Prize for Literature (2010)

Tony Harrison (born 30 April 1937) is an English poet, translator and playwright. He was born in Leeds and he received his education in Classics from Leeds Grammar School and Leeds University.[2] He is one of Britain's foremost verse writers and many of his works have been performed at the Royal National Theatre.[2] He is noted for controversial works such as the poem 'v.', as well as his versions of dramatic works: from ancient Greek such as the tragedies Oresteia and Lysistrata, from French Molière's The Misanthrope, from Middle English The Mysteries.[2] He is also noted for his outspoken views, particularly those on the Iraq War.[2][3][4] In 2015, he was honoured with the David Cohen Prize in recognition for his body of work.[5]


  • Works 1
  • Reception 2
  • Bibliography 3
    • Poetry 3.1
    • Pamphlets 3.2
    • Film and television 3.3
    • Theatre and opera 3.4
    • About Tony Harrison and his poetry 3.5
  • Literary prizes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Adaptation of the English Medieval Mystery Plays, based on the York and Wakefield cycles, The Mysteries, were first performed in 1985 by the Royal National Theatre.[2] Interviewed by Melvyn Bragg for BBC television in 2012, Harrison said: "It was only when I did the Mystery Plays and got Northern actors doing verse, that I felt that I was reclaiming the energy of classical verse in the voices that it was created for."[6]

One of his best-known works is the long poem 'v.' (1985), written during the miners' strike of 1984–85, and describing a trip to see his parents' grave in Holbeck Cemetery in Beeston, Leeds, 'now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti'. The title has several possible interpretations: victory, versus, verse, etc. Proposals to screen a filmed version of 'v.' by Channel 4 in October 1987 drew howls of outrage from the tabloid press, some broadsheet journalists, and MPs, apparently concerned about the effects its "torrents of obscene language" and "streams of four-letter filth" would have on the nation's youth. Indeed, an Early Day Motion entitled "Television Obscenity" was proposed on 27 October 1987 by a group of Conservative MPs, who condemned Channel 4 and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The motion was opposed only by MP Norman Buchan, who suggested that fellow members had either failed to read or failed to understand the poem. The broadcast went ahead and, after widespread press coverage, the uproar subsided. Gerald Howarth MP said that Harrison was "Probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us". When told of this, Harrison retorted that Howarth was "Probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us".[7]


Richard Eyre calls Harrison's 1990 play, The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus "among the five most imaginative pieces of drama in the 90s". Jocelyn Herbert, famous designer of the British theatrical scene, comments that Harrison is aware of the dramatic visual impact of his ideas: "The idea of satyrs jumping out of boxes in Trackers is wonderful for the stage. Some writers just write and have little idea what it will look like, but Tony always knows exactly what he wants."[8]

Edith Hall has written that she is convinced that Harrison's 1998 film-poem Prometheus is "artistic reaction to the fall of the British working class" at the end of the twentieth century,[9][10] and considers it as "the most important adaptation of classical myth for a radical political purpose for years" and Harrison's "most brilliant artwork, with the possible exception of his stage play The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus".[9]

Professor [11]



  • The Loiners (1970)
  • From the School of Eloquence and Other Poems (1981)
  • Continuous (50 Sonnets from the School of Eloquence and Other Poems) (1981)
  • A Kumquat for John Keats (1981)
  • V (1985)
  • Dramatic Verse,1973–85 (1985)
  • The Gaze of the Gorgon (1992)
  • Black Daisies for the Bride (1993)
  • The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems (1995)
  • Laureate's Block and Other Occasional Poems (2000)
  • Under the Clock (2005)
  • Selected Poems (2006)
  • Collected Poems (2007)
  • Collected Film Poetry (2007)


  • Earthworks (1964)
  • Newcastle is Peru (1969)
  • Bow Down (1977)
  • Looking Up (1979)
  • The Fire Gap (1985)
  • Anno Forty Two: Seven New Poems (1987)
  • Ten Sonnets from "The School of Eloquence" (1987)
  • A Cold Coming (1991)
  • A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan (1994)

Film and television

Theatre and opera

About Tony Harrison and his poetry

  • Byrne, Sandie, ed. (1997). Tony Harrison: Loiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press.  
  • Rutter, Carol (1995). Permanently Bard. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books.  
  • Sheehan, Sean. The poetry of Tony Harrison. Focus On. London: Greenwich Exchange.  
  • Spencer, Luke (1994). The Poetry of Tony Harrison. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.  

Literary prizes


  1. ^ Alan Rosenthal (2007). Writing, directing, and producing documentary films and videos. SIU Press. pp. 78–.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Dominic Head (26 January 2006). The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge University Press. pp. 488–489.  
  3. ^ "HARRISON, Tony". Who's Who 2012. A & C Black. Retrieved 27 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Harrison, Tony (1991). A Cold Coming. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books.  
  5. ^ Jonathan McAloon, poet Tony Harrison wins David Cohen Prize for Literature 2015, Telegraph, 26 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Melvyn Bragg on Class and Culture: Episode 2, BBC2, broadcast 2 March 2012
  7. ^ "The Blagger's Guide To: Tony Harrison". The Independent. 29 April 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2013. 
  8. ^ "The Guardian Profile: Tony Harrison Man of mysteries". The Guardian. 1 April 2000. Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  9. ^ a b  
  10. ^ Lorna Hardwick (15 May 2003). Reception Studies. Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–85.  
  11. ^ Roger Griffin (December 2002). "The palingenetic political community: rethinking the legitimation of totalitarian regimes in inter-war Europe." (PDF).  
  12. ^ BFI. "The Gaze of the Gorgon". 
  13. ^ Merten, Karl (2004). Antike Mythen – Mythos Antike: posthumanistische Antikerezeption in der englischsprachigen Lyrik der Gegenwart. Wilhelm Fink Verlag. pp. 105–106.  
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Independent newspaper review of the play, 22 April 1996. Accessed 16 January 2015.
  17. ^ The Independent newspaper:THEATRE / Bang, bang, dead confusing: Square Rounds - Olivier, National Theatre, 4 October 1992
  18. ^ The Wildred Owen Association
  19. ^ Alison Flood, "Tony Harrison wins inaugural PEN/Pinter prize." 22 September 2009, Guardian
  20. ^ Moss, Stephen (26 February 2015). "Tony Harrison: still open for business".  

External links

  • Quotations related to Tony Harrison at Wikiquote
  • Tony Harrison on Bloodaxe Books website
  • Tony Harrison at British Council: Literature
  • Tony Harrison on the Faber and Faber website
  • Guardian newspaper interview (March 2007)
  • University of Leeds profile
  • New Statesman profile (April 1999)
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