Edward Bond, Whose Brazen Work Freed British Drama From Royal Censors, Dies at 89

Edward Bond was born on July 18, 1934, in Holloway, the London district recreated in “Saved.” His parents, both illiterate, had moved to this “brick desert,” as he called it, after his father lost his job as a farm laborer in East Anglia. Though he was twice evacuated to the country during the war, Edward was in London during the Blitz and the later rocket attacks on the city. The experience of the bombing, he said, was formative: “I was born into a society where you didn’t know if you would last the day. When I was young I saw people running for their lives.”

Mr. Bond left school — “secondary modern,” meaning catering for children considered academically inferior — at the age of 15 without any qualifications. However, he displayed a talent for writing and had an apotheosis which encouraged it. “For the first time I found something beautiful and exciting and alive,” he said of a school visit to see “Macbeth.” “I met someone who was talking about my problems, the society around me. Nobody else had said anything about my life to me at all, ever.”

Before and after military service — “very brutal, with people publicly humiliated and degraded, an image of society outside the army” — he worked in factories, warehouses and an insurance office while writing poems, stories and, especially plays. In 1958, he became a member of the Royal Court’s Writers Group, and in 1962 was awarded a Sunday-night performance of his “Pope’s Wedding,” about East Anglians who were as deprived and debased as their urban counterparts in “Saved.”

With his reputation made by “Saved,” the Royal Court staged what are still regarded as his major plays: “Lear,” a radical updating of Shakespeare; “The Sea,” about class divisions in an Edwardian community; “Bingo,” with John Gielgud playing a Shakespeare who commits suicide in despair at the loss of his integrity; and “The Fool,” in which the poet John Clare is driven insane by the contradictions of British society. In 1978, Mr. Bond directed his pacifist take on the Trojan War, “The Woman,” at the National Theater, after which the Royal Shakespeare Company staged his play, “The Bundle,” about serfdom and slavery in medieval Japan.

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