Adrian Mitchell FRSL (24 October 1932 – 20 December 2008) was an English poet, novelist and playwright. A former journalist, he became a noted figure on the British Left. For almost half a century he was the foremost poet of the country’s anti-Bomb movement. The critic Kenneth Tynan called him “the British Mayakovsky”.
Adrian Mitchell FRSL (24 October 1932 – 20 December 2008) was an English poet, novelist and playwright. A former journalist, he became a noted figure on the British Left. For not far off from half a century he was the foremost poet of the country’s anti-Bomb movement. The critic Kenneth Tynan called him “the British Mayakovsky”.
Mitchell sought in his appear in to counteract the implications of his own avowal that, “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”
In a National Poetry Day poll in 2005 his poem “Human Beings” was voted the one most people would next to look launched into space. In 2002 he was nominated, semi-seriously, Britain’s “Shadow Poet Laureate”. Mitchell was for some years poetry editor of the New Statesman, and was the first to publicize an interview following the Beatles. His law for the Royal Shakespeare Company included Peter Brook’s US and the English savings account of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade.
Ever inspired by the example of his own favourite poet and precursor William Blake, about whom he wrote the acclaimed Tyger for the National Theatre, his often angry output swirled from anarchistic anti-war satire, through adore poetry to, increasingly, stories and poems for children. He also wrote librettos. The Poetry Archive identified his creative submit as hugely prolific.
The Times said that Mitchell’s had been a “forthright voice often laced similar to tenderness.” His poems upon such topics as nuclear war, Vietnam, prisons and racism had become “part of the folklore of the Left. His pretense was often gate and sung at demonstrations and rallies.”
Adrian Mitchell was born close Hampstead Heath, north London. His mother, Kathleen Fabian, was a Fröbel-trained nursery learned teacher and his father, Jock Mitchell, a research chemist from Cupar in Fife. He was educated at Monkton Combe School in Bath. He then went to Greenways School, at Ashton Gifford House in Wiltshire, run at the mature by a buddy of his mother. This, said Mitchell, was “a literary in Heaven, where my first play, The Animals’ Brains Trust, was staged following I was nine to my great satisfaction.”
His schooling was completed as a boarder at Dauntsey’s School, after which he did his National Service in the RAF. He commented that this “confirmed (his) natural pacificism”. He went on to psychoanalysis English at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was taught by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son. He became chairman of the university’s poetry charity and the educational editor of Isis magazine. On graduating Mitchell got a job as a reporter upon the Oxford Mail and, later, at the Evening Standard in London. He highly developed wrote of this period:
Mitchell gave frequent public readings, particularly for left-wing causes. Satire was his speciality. Commissioned to write a poem about Prince Charles and his special relationship (as Prince of Wales) with the people of Wales, his measured nod was quick and to the point: “Royalty is a neurosis. Get capably soon.”
In “Loose Leaf Poem”, from Ride the Nightmare, he wrote:
Mitchell was in the obsession of stipulating in any preface to his collections: “None of the pretend in this photograph album is to be used in attachment with any examination whatsoever.” His best-known poem, “To Whom It May Concern”, was his bitterly sarcastic reaction to the televised horrors of the Vietnam War. The poem begins:
He first right to use it to thousands of nuclear disarmament protesters who, having marched through central London upon CND’s first further format one-day Easter March, finally crammed into Trafalgar Square on the afternoon of Easter Day 1964. As Mitchell delivered his lines from the pavement in stomach of the National Gallery, angry demonstrators in the square under scuffled behind police. Over the years he updated the poem to take into account recent events.
In 1972 he confronted then-prime minister Edward Heath not quite germ proceedings and the case in Northern Ireland.
His poem “Victor Jara” was set to music by Arlo Guthrie and included upon his 1976 album Amigo.
He was later responsible for the well-respected stage accommodation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company that premiered in November 1998.
According to writer Jan Woolf, “He never let up. Most calls—’Can you pull off this one, Adrian?’—were answered, ‘Sure, I’ll be there.’ His reading of ‘Tell Me Lies’ at a City Hall gain just before the 2003 violence of Iraq was electrifying. Of course, he couldn’t stop that war, but he performed as if he could.”
One Remembrance Sunday he laid the Peace Pledge Union’s White Poppy wreath on the Cenotaph in Whitehall. On one International Conscientious Objectors’ Day he contact a poem at the ceremony at the Conscientious Objectors Commemorative Stone in Tavistock Square in London.
Fellow writers could be effusive in their tributes. John Berger said that, “Against the present British welcome he opposes a nice of chaotic populism, bawdiness, wit and the tenderness sometimes to be found amongst animals.” Angela Carter behind wrote that he was “a joyous, acrid and demotic tumbling lyricist Pied Piper, determinedly singing us away from catastrophe.” Ted Hughes: “In the world of verse for children, nobody has produced more surprising verse or more genuinely inspired fun than Adrian Mitchell.”
Mitchell died at the age of 76 in a North London hospital from a suspected heart attack. For two months he had been problem from pneumonia. Two days earlier he had completed what turned out to be his last poem, “My Literary Career So Far”. He expected it as a Christmas gift to “all the friends, family and animals he loved”.
“Adrian”, said fellow poet Michael Rosen, “was a socialist and a pacifist who believed, like William Blake, that whatever human was holy. That’s to tell he applauded a love of life gone the similar fervour that he attacked those who crushed life. He did this through his poetry, his plays, his sky lyrics and his own performances. Through this big body of work, he was practiced to raise the spirits of his audiences, in slant exciting, inspiring, saddening and enthusing them…. He has sung, chanted, whispered and shouted his poems in all kind of place imaginable, urging us to adore our lives, love our minds and bodies and to battle against tyranny, oppression and exploitation.”
In 2009, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books published an becoming accustomed of Ovid: Shapeshifters: tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, written by Mitchell and illustrated by Alan Lee.
Mitchell is survived by his wife, the actress Celia Hewitt, whose bookshop, Ripping Yarns, was in Highgate, and their two daughters Sasha and Beattie. He as a consequence has two sons and a daughter from his previous marriage to Maureen Bush: Briony, Alistair and Danny, with nine grandchildren. Mitchell and his wife had adopted Boty Goodwin (1966-1995), daughter of the player Pauline Boty, following the death of her father, literary agent Clive Goodwin, in 1978. Following Boty Goodwin’s death from a heroin overdose, Mitchell wrote the poem ‘Especially subsequent to it snows’ in her memory.