Kitchen sink realism

Kitchen sink realism (or kitchen sink drama) is a British cultural movement that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in theatre, art, novels, film, and television plays, whose protagonists usually could be described as "angry young men" who were disillusioned with modern society. It used a style of social realism, which depicted the domestic situations of working class Britons, living in cramped rented accommodation and spending their off-hours drinking in grimy pubs, to explore controversial social and political issues ranging from abortion to homelessness. The harsh, realistic style contrasted sharply with the escapism of the previous generation's so-called "well-made plays".

The films, plays and novels employing this style are often set in poorer industrial areas in the North of England, and use the accents and slang heard in those regions. The film It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) is a precursor of the genre, and the John Osborne play Look Back in Anger (1956) is thought of as the first of the genre. The gritty love-triangle of Look Back in Anger, for example, takes place in a cramped, one-room flat in the English Midlands. Shelagh Delaney's 1958 play A Taste of Honey (which was made into a film of the same name in 1961), is about a teenage schoolgirl who has an affair with a black sailor, gets pregnant, and then moves in with a gay male acquaintance; it raises issues such as class, race, gender and sexual orientation. The conventions of the genre have continued into the 2000s, finding expression in such television shows as Coronation Street and EastEnders.[1]

In art, "Kitchen Sink School" was a term used by critic David Sylvester to describe painters who depicted social realist–type scenes of domestic life.[2]

Billy Dee Williams Joan Plowright A Taste of Honey Broadway 1960
A Taste of Honey is an influential "kitchen sink drama". In this photo of the 1960 Broadway production, Joan Plowright plays the role of Jo, a 17-year-old schoolgirl who has a love affair with a black sailor (played by Billy Dee Williams).


Antecedents and influences

The cultural movement was rooted in the ideals of social realism, an artistic movement, expressed in the visual and other realist arts, which depicts working class activities. Many artists who subscribed to social realism were painters with socialist political views. While the movement has some commonalities with Socialist Realism, another style of realism which was the "official art" advocated by the governments of the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries, the two had several differences. While social realism is a broader type of art that realistically depicts subjects of social concern,[3] Socialist realism is characterized by the glorified depiction of socialist values, such as the emancipation of the proletariat, in a realistic manner.[4]

Unlike Socialist realism, social realism is not an official art produced by, or under the supervision of the government. The leading characters are often 'anti-heroes' rather than part of a class to be admired, as in Socialist realism. Typically, protagonists in social realism are dissatisfied with their working class lives and the world, rather than being idealised workers who are part of a Socialist utopia in the process of creation. As such, social realism allows more space for the subjectivity of the author to be displayed.

Partly, social realism developed as a reaction against Romanticism, which promoted lofty concepts such as the "ineffable" beauty and truth of art and music, and even turned them into spiritual ideals. As such, social realism focused on the "ugly realities of contemporary life and sympathized with working class people, particularly the poor." (The quotation is from George Shi, of the University of Fine Arts, Valencia).[5]

Origins of the term

In the United Kingdom, the term "kitchen sink" derived from an expressionist painting by John Bratby, which contained an image of a kitchen sink. Bratby did various kitchen and bathroom-themed paintings, including three paintings of toilets. Bratby's paintings of people often depicted the faces of his subjects as desperate and unsightly.[6][7] Kitchen sink realism artists painted everyday objects, such as trash cans and beer bottles. The critic David Sylvester wrote an article in 1954 about trends in recent English art, calling his article "The Kitchen Sink" in reference to Bratby's picture. Sylvester argued that there was a new interest among young painters in domestic scenes, with stress on the banality of life.[1] Other artists associated with the kitchen sink style include Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch and Jack Smith.


Before the 1950s, the United Kingdom's working class were often depicted stereotypically in Noël Coward's drawing room comedies and British films. Kitchen sink realism was also seen as being in opposition to the "well-made play", the kind which theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once denounced as being set in "Loamshire", of dramatists like Terence Rattigan. "Well-made plays" were a dramatic genre from nineteenth-century theatre which found its early 20th-century codification in Britain in the form of William Archer's Play-Making: A Manual of Craftmanship (1912),[8] and in the United States with George Pierce Baker's Dramatic Technique (1919).[9] Kitchen sink works were created with the intention of changing all that. Their political views were initially labeled as radical, sometimes even anarchic.

John Osborne's play Look Back In Anger (1956) depicted young men in a way that is similar to the then-contemporary "Angry Young Men" movement of film and theatre directors. The "angry young men" were a group of mostly working and middle class British playwrights and novelists who became prominent in the 1950s. Following the success of the Osborne play, the label "angry young men" was later applied by British media to describe young writers who were characterised by a disillusionment with traditional British society. The hero of Look Back In Anger is a graduate, but he is working in a manual occupation. It dealt with social alienation, the claustrophobia and frustrations of a provincial life on low incomes.

The impact of this work inspired Arnold Wesker and Shelagh Delaney, among numerous others, to write plays of their own. The English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre, headed by George Devine and Theatre Workshop organised by Joan Littlewood were particularly prominent in bringing these plays to public attention. Critic John Heilpern wrote that Look Back in Anger expressed such "immensity of feeling and class hatred" that it altered the course of English theatre.[1] The term "Angry theatre" was coined by critic John Russell Taylor.[10]

This was all part of the British New Wave—a transposition of the concurrent nouvelle vague film movement in France, some of whose works, such as The 400 Blows of 1959, also emphasised the lives of the urban proletariat. British filmmakers such as Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson (see also Free Cinema) channelled their vitriolic anger into film making. Confrontational films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and A Taste of Honey (1961) were noteworthy movies in the genre. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is about a young machinist who spends his wages at weekends on drinking and having a good time, until his affair with a married woman leads to her getting pregnant and him being beaten by her husband to the point of hospitalization. A Taste of Honey is about a 17-year old schoolgirl with an abusive, alcoholic mother. The schoolgirl starts a relationship with a black sailor and gets pregnant. After the sailor leaves on his ship, Jo moves in with a homosexual acquaintance, Geoffrey, who assumes the role of surrogate father. A Taste of Honey raises the issues of class, race, gender and sexual orientation.

Later, as many of these writers and directors diversified, kitchen sink realism was taken up by television directors who produced television plays. The single play was then a staple of the medium, and Armchair Theatre (1956–68), produced by the ITV contractor ABC, The Wednesday Play (1964–70) and Play for Today (1970–84), both BBC series, contained many works of this kind. Jeremy Sandford's television play Cathy Come Home (1966, directed by Ken Loach for The Wednesday Play slot) for instance, addressed the then-stigmatised issue of homelessness.

Kitchen sink realism was also used in the novels of Stan Barstow, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe and others.

Trademarks of kitchen sink realism

There are reoccurring themes within these plays and films. They have a grittiness within the story, showing the harsher side of life. There are realistic representations of pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage, and pregnancy outside of marriage, particularly shown in Alfie and Georgy Girl. There is always a working class setting, and a politically left leaning is more often seen, especially in Saturday night and sunday morning and Look back in anger. There are frequent domestic disputes throughout all of the films in this category.

The characters often have earthy accents such as Lancashire and cockney. The film or play will not best fit into another genre such as Thriller, Horror, Crime drama or Film Noir. There is a frequent focus on extra-marital affairs and the social problems that ensue from them.

Taboo subjects

The Kitchen sink drama films deal with contemporary taboo topics such as homosexuality, which was illegal in the UK until 1967, abortion which was also illegal in the UK until 1967, unwed pregnant women, and extra marital affairs.

The film Alfie graphically depicts the aftermath of an illegal abortion, the woman in question being in terrible pain and exhausted by the procedure. The Up the Junction play shows something similar in 1965. In Saturday night and sunday morning there is an attempt to perform a backstreet abortion which fails.

Homosexuality is discussed in A Taste of Honey, where the male lead character is gay, and is portrayed, somewhat sympathetically, in Leather boys. Both of these films were made before the legalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

A Taste of Honey also portrays an extra marital affair and an unwed pregnant woman. The character Joe suffers depression from this situation and is scolded by her mother for getting pregnant. At that time, it was a strong taboo to have a baby out of wedlock.

List of films

List of plays

See also


  1. ^ a b c Heilpern, John. John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man, New York: Knopf, 2007.
  2. ^ Walker, John. (1992) "Kitchen Sink School". Glossary of Art, Architecture & Design since 1945, 3rd. ed. Retrieved 20 January 2012.
  3. ^ Todd, James G. "Social Realism". Art Terms. Museum of Modern Art, 2009.
  4. ^ Korin, Pavel, “Thoughts on Art”, Socialist Realism in Literature and Art. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1971, p. 95.
  5. ^ "Social Realism". Retrieved 2008-05-04.
  6. ^ Ian Chilvers; John Glaves-Smith (2009). A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art. Oxford University Press. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-19-923965-8
  7. ^ "John Bratby 1928–1992". Tate. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
  8. ^ Archer, William. Playmaking: a Manual of Craftsmanship. Public domain.
  9. ^ J L Styan, Modern Drama in Theory and Practice I, quoted by Innes (2000, 7).
  10. ^ John Russell Taylor. Anger and After, 1962, London: Methuen.
  11. ^ Kitchen sink realism review for Sparrows Can't Sing.
  12. ^ Georgy Girl's kitchen sink review
  13. ^ BFI list of kitchen sink dramas mention of Bronco Bullfrog.

External links

A Taste of Honey (film)

A Taste of Honey is a 1961 British film adaptation of the play of the same name by Shelagh Delaney. Delaney wrote the screenplay, aided by director Tony Richardson, who had directed the play on the stage. It is an exemplar of a gritty genre of British film that has come to be called kitchen sink realism.

The film opened on 15 September 1961 at the Leicester Square Theatre in London's West End.

Acid Western

Acid Western is a subgenre of the Western film that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s that combines the metaphorical ambitions of critically acclaimed Westerns, such as Shane and The Searchers, with the excesses of the Spaghetti Westerns and the outlook of the counterculture of the 1960s. Acid Westerns subvert many of the conventions of earlier Westerns to "conjure up a crazed version of autodestructive white America at its most solipsistic, hankering after its own lost origins".

British New Wave

The British New Wave is a style of films released in Great Britain between 1959 and 1963. The label is a translation of Nouvelle Vague, the French term first applied to the films of François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard among others.

Compact (TV series)

Compact was a British television soap opera shown by the BBC from 1962 to 1965. The series was created by Hazel Adair and Peter Ling, who together subsequently devised Crossroads. In contrast to the kitchen sink realism of Coronation Street, Compact was a distinctly middle-class serial, set in the more "sophisticated" arena of magazine publishing. An early "avarice" soap, it took the viewer into the business workplace, and aligned the professional lives of the characters with more personal storylines. The show was scheduled for broadcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, thus avoiding a clash with ITV's Coronation Street on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Free Cinema

Free Cinema was a documentary film movement that emerged in the United Kingdom in the mid-1950s. The term referred to an absence of propagandised intent or deliberate box office appeal. Co-founded by Lindsay Anderson, (though he later disdained the 'movement' tag), with Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson and Lorenza Mazzetti, the movement began with a programme of three short films at the National Film Theatre, London, on 5 February 1956. The programme was such a success that five more programmes appeared under the ‘Free Cinema’ banner before the founders decided to end the series. The last event was held in March 1959. Three of the screenings consisted of work from overseas film makers.

John Bratby

John Randall Bratby RA (19 July 1928 – 20 July 1992) was an English painter who founded the kitchen sink realism style of art that was influential in the late 1950s. He made portraits of his family and celebrities. His works were seen in television and film. Bratby was also a writer.

Jonny Briggs

Jonny Briggs is a Children's BBC kitchen sink realism television programme first broadcast in 1985. It revolves around the exploits of a young boy, the eponymous hero (played by Richard Holian), his pet dog, Razzle, and his eccentric family members: Mam (Jane Lowe) and Dad (Leslie Schofield), older sister Rita (Sue Devaney) and older brothers Albert (Tommy Robinson) and Humph (Humphrey) (Jeremy Austin). Another older sister, Marilyn, is mentioned but never seen. The stories often centre on Jonny's school life, where he and his best friend Pam are constantly in battle with the dreadful twins Ginny and Josie.

Previously some of the Jonny Briggs books by Joan Eadington were read on Jackanory. In the books Jonny has two older sisters—Pat and Sandra.

The programme was filmed in Bradford.

The theme tune "The Acrobat" composed by J A Greenwood in 1936 is considered synonymous with the series. The piece of music chosen for the programme was recorded by renowned trombonist Colin Buchanan.

Kitchen sink

Kitchen sink may refer to:

Kitchen Sink (film), a 2014 comedy horror film

Kitchen Sink (TV series), cookery series on Food Network

"Kitchen Sink", a song by Twenty One Pilots from their album Regional at Best

Kitchen sink chemistry, a synonym for amateur chemistry

Kitchen Sink Press, an independent comic book publisher

Kitchen sink realism, a British cultural movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s

Kitchen sink syndrome, also known as "scope creep" in project management

Kitchen sink regression, a usually pejorative term for a regression analysis which uses a long list of possible independent variables

A sink in a kitchen for washing dishes, vegetables, etc.

List of apocalyptic films

This is a list of apocalyptic feature-length films. All films within this list feature either the end of the world, a prelude to such an end (such as a world taken over by a viral infection), and/or a post-apocalyptic setting.

Look Back in Anger (1959 film)

Look Back in Anger is a 1959 British drama film starring Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Mary Ure and directed by Tony Richardson. The film is based on John Osborne's eponymous play about a love triangle involving an intelligent but disaffected young man (Jimmy Porter), his upper-middle-class, impassive wife (Alison), and her snooty best friend (Helena Charles). Cliff, an amiable Welsh lodger, attempts to keep the peace. The character of Ma Tanner, only referred to in the play, is here brought to life by Edith Evans as a dramatic device to emphasise the class difference between Jimmy and Alison. The film and play are classic examples of the British cultural movement known as kitchen sink realism.

Meat pie Western

Meat pie western, also known as a kangaroo western is a category of Western-style films or TV series set in the Australian outback. The names are a play on the term Spaghetti Western. The category is important to differentiate more Americanised Australian films from those with a more historical basis, such as ones about bushrangers (also sometimes called bushranger films).

Nathan Eastwood

Nathan Eastwood was born in Barrow-in-Furness, England in 1972. He graduated from Byam Shaw School of Art in 2009.Eastwood was a finalist in the 2007 ‘Celeste Art Prize’ and won the inaugural ‘East London Painting Prize’ in 2014. He paints everyday domestic and urban scenes of people he records on his mobile phone. Eastwood works in monochrome by applying enamel paint to board in thin layers. Of his work Eastwood says: “Central to my painting practice is a re-examination of kitchen sink realism.”Exhibitions include: ‘Work/Recreation/Freedon/’ at the Nunnery Gallery, London (2014), ‘Present Tense’ at Swindon Art Gallery (2015), ‘@PaintBritain’, Ipswich Museum (2014), ‘Towards a New Socio-Painting’, Transition Gallery, London (2014), ‘Royal Academy Summer Show’ Royal Academy of Arts, London (2013) and ‘The John Moore’s Painting Prize’ Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2012). Permanent collections include: The Zabludovicz Collection(London), Goldhill Family (London), The Priseman Seabrook Collection and Swindon Art Gallery.

Opera film

An opera film is a recording of an opera on film.

Paddy Chayefsky

Sidney Aaron "Paddy" Chayefsky (January 29, 1923 – August 1, 1981) was an American playwright, screenwriter and novelist. He is the only person to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (the other three-time winners, Francis Ford Coppola, Charles Brackett, Woody Allen, and Billy Wilder, have all shared their awards with co-writers).He was considered one of the most renowned dramatists of the so-called Golden Age of Television. His intimate, realistic scripts provided a naturalistic style of television drama for the 1950s, and he was regarded as the central figure in the "kitchen sink realism" movement of American television. Martin Gottfried wrote in All His Jazz that Chayefsky "was a successful writer, the most successful graduate of television's slice of life school of naturalism."Following his critically acclaimed teleplays, Chayefsky continued to succeed as a playwright and novelist. As a screenwriter, he received three Academy Awards for Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976). The movie Marty was based on his own television drama about two lonely people finding love. Network was his scathing satire of the television industry and The Hospital was also satiric. Film historian David Thomson called The Hospital "years ahead of its time. […] Few films capture the disaster of America's self-destructive idealism so well." His screenplay for Network is often regarded as his masterpiece, and has been hailed as "the kind of literate, darkly funny and breathtakingly prescient material that prompts many to claim it as the greatest screenplay of the 20th century."Chayefsky's early stories were frequently influenced by the author's childhood in The Bronx. Chayefsky was part of the inaugural class of inductees into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Television Hall of Fame. He received this honor three years after his death, in 1984.

Satire boom

The satire boom is a general term to describe the emergence of a generation of English satirical writers, journalists and performers at the end of the 1950s. The satire boom is often regarded as having begun with the first performance of Beyond the Fringe on 22 August 1960 and ending around December 1963 with the cancellation of the TV show That Was The Week That Was. The figures most closely identified with it are Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, David Frost, Bernard Levin and Richard Ingrams. Many of the figures who found initial celebrity through the satire boom went on to establish subsequently more serious careers as writers including Alan Bennett (drama), Jonathan Miller (polymathic), and Paul Foot (investigative journalism).

In his book The Neophiliacs Christopher Booker, who as a founding editor of Private Eye was a central figure of the satire boom, charts the years 1959 to 1964. He begins with the Cambridge Footlights student revue The Last Laugh written by Bird and Cook. It transferred to a West End theatre. Booker ends the period with the cancellation of the television series That Was The Week That Was, and the closing of the Establishment Club.

The boom was driven by well-connected graduates from first the University of Cambridge, and then the University of Oxford. Booker argues that, with the response to the Suez Crisis which effectively marked the end of the British Empire as a great power, an upper middle class generation with public school and Oxbridge educations who had grown up with certain expectations — of following a career in colonial administration or the civil service — suddenly found themselves surplus. Peter Cook had already entered for a Foreign Office entrance exam, before his stage career took off. At the same time the emergence of the "angry young men" and "kitchen sink realism" in drama were signs that the democratisation of British culture was increasingly dominated by the concerns of the "common man". The Labour Party was proving to be an ineffective opposition to a patrician Conservative government. The satire-boom generation were in general apolitical or had (at that time) left-of-centre tendencies.

The L-Shaped Room

The L-Shaped Room is a 1962 British drama film, directed by Bryan Forbes, which tells the story of a young French woman, unmarried and pregnant, who moves into a London boarding house, befriending a young man in the building. It stars Leslie Caron and Tom Bell. The work is considered part of the kitchen sink realism school of British drama.The film was adapted by Bryan Forbes from the novel by Lynne Reid Banks.Leslie Caron's performance won her the Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for best actress, and earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The Leather Boys

The Leather Boys is a 1964 British drama film about the rocker subculture in London featuring a gay motorcyclist. This film is notable as an early example of a film that violated the Hollywood production code, yet was still shown in the United States, as well as an important film in the genre of queer cinema.An example of British kitchen sink realism, it was considered daring in 1964 as it touched upon homosexuality, however obliquely. Reviewers have noted that it contains naturalistic photography, and period locations such as the Ace Cafe. .

The film is based on a novel commissioned by the London literary agent and publisher Anthony Blond, who suggested that Gillian Freeman write about a "Romeo and Romeo in the South London suburbs".

Tony Williamson

Tony Williamson (18 December 1932 in Manchester – 19 June 1991) was a prolific British television writer, most active from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. He wrote primarily for the action-adventure and espionage genres. Perhaps because of his early involvement in The Avengers, he often found work on shows that featured fantasy adventure, rather than the kitchen sink realism that had arisen in Britain at the start of his career. Series with extraordinary lead characters in unusual circumstances, such as Department S, Jason King, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and The Adventurer, dominated his output.

He has been credited with creating the short-lived dramas Intrigue and Counterstrike, as well as being a key player in the development of Adam Adamant Lives!.

Tread Softly Stranger

Tread Softly Stranger is a 1958 British crime drama directed by Gordon Parry and starring Diana Dors, George Baker and Terence Morgan. The film was shot in black-and-white in film noir style, and its setting in an industrial town in northern England mirrors the kitchen sink realism movement coming into vogue in English drama and film at the time. The screenplay was adapted from the stage play Blind Alley (1953) by Jack Popplewell.

Key works
By style
By theme
By movement
or period
By demographic groups
By format,
or production

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.