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Performing To Whom It May Concern to an audience of 7,000 at the Albert Hall Poetry Reading of 1965 and, right, the updated Iraq version in 2008

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 anti-authoritarian 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.[1]

Mitchell sought in his work to counteract the implications of his own assertion that, "Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people."[2]

In a National Poetry Day poll in 2005 his poem "Human Beings" was voted the one most people would like to see launched into space.[3] In 2002 he was nominated, semi-seriously, Britain's Shadow Poet Laureate.[4] Mitchell was for some years poetry editor of the New Statesman, and was the first to publish an interview with The Beatles.[5] His work for the Royal Shakespeare Company included Peter Brook's US and the English version of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade.[6]

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 love poetry to, increasingly, stories and poems for children. He also wrote librettos. The Poetry Archive identified his creative yield as hugely prolific.[7]

The Times said that Mitchell's had been a "forthright voice often laced with tenderness." His poems on such topics as nuclear war, Vietnam, prisons and racism had become "part of the folklore of the Left. His work was often read and sung at demonstrations and rallies."[8]




Early life & career

Adrian Mitchell was born near Hampstead Heath, North London. His mother, Kathleen Fabian, was a Fröbel-trained nursery school teacher and his father Jock Mitchell, a research chemist from Cupar in Fife. He was educated at Monkton Combe School, "a school full of bullies, whose playground he characterised as 'the killing ground'".[9] He then went to Greenways at Ashton Gifford House in Wiltshire, run at the time by a friend of his mother. This, said Mitchell, was "a school in Heaven, where my first play, The Animals' Brains Trust, was staged when I was nine to my great satisfaction."[10]

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".[11] He went on to study English at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was taught by J.R.R. Tolkien’s son. He became chairman of the university's poetry society and the literary editor of Isis magazine.[12] On graduating Mitchell got a job as a reporter on the Oxford Mail and, later, at the Evening Standard in London.[2]

"Inheriting enough money to live on for a year, I wrote my first novel and my first TV play. Soon afterwards I became a freelance journalist, writing about pop music for the Daily Mail and TV for the pre-tabloid Sun and the Sunday Times. I quit journalism in the mid-Sixties and since then have been a free-falling poet, playwright and writer of stories."[10]


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 response was short and to the point: "Royalty is a neurosis. Get well soon."

Heart on the Left : Ralph Steadman's blood-splattered cover for Mitchell's Poem's 1953-1984

In "Loose Leaf Poem", from Ride the Nightmare, he wrote:

My brain socialist
My heart anarchist
My eyes pacifist
My blood revolutionary[13]

Mitchell was in the habit of stipulating in any preface to his collections: "None of the work in this book is to be used in connection 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,

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I’ve walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam

He first read it to thousands of nuclear disarmament protesters who, having marched through central London on CND's first new 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 above in front of the National Gallery, angry demonstrators in the square below scuffled with police.

Over the years he updated the poem to take into account recent events.[12]

"He never let up. Most calls—'Can you do this one, Adrian?'—were answered, 'Sure, I'll be there.' His reading of "Tell Me Lies" at a City Hall benefit just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq was electrifying. Of course, he couldn't stop that war, but he performed as if he could."[14]

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 read 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 state he opposes a kind of revolutionary populism, bawdiness, wit and the tenderness sometimes to be found between animals." Angela Carter once 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."[1]

Mitchell died at the age of 76 in a North London hospital from a suspected heart attack. For two months he had been suffering from pneumonia. Two days earlier he had completed what turned out to be his last poem, "My Literary Career So Far". He intended 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 everything human was holy. That's to say he celebrated a love of life with the same fervour that he attacked those who crushed life. He did this through his poetry, his plays, his song lyrics and his own performances. Through this huge body of work, he was able to raise the spirits of his audiences, in turn exciting, inspiring, saddening and enthusing them . . . He has sung, chanted, whispered and shouted his poems in every kind of place imaginable, urging us to love our lives, love our minds and bodies and to fight against tyranny, oppression and exploitation."[15]


Mitchell is survived by his wife, the actress and bookseller Celia Hewitt, and five children —Sasha, Beattie, and Briony (now Bax), Alistair and Danny,— two sons and a daughter from his first marriage to Maureen Bush, and two daughters with Celia. He had nine grandchildren: Robin, Charlotte, Natasha, Zoe, Katlin, Annie, Lola, Lilly and Arthur.[10]



  1. ^ a b "Writers Speak". Adrian Mitchell's website. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  2. ^ a b "Adrian Mitchell: Poet and playwright whose work was driven by his pacifist politics". The Independent. 23 December 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  3. ^ "Poet Adrian Mitchell dies at 76". BBC Online. 21 December 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  4. ^ Red Pepper magazine, 2002.
  5. ^ Rotterdam International Poetry Festival
  6. ^ "Poet Adrian Mitchell dies, aged 76". The Guardian. 21 Dec 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  7. ^ Poetry Archive, Adrian Mitchell
  8. ^ Kaya Burgess (22 December 2008). "Adrian Mitchell, ‘Shadow Poet Laureate’, dies aged 76". London: The Times. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  9. ^ Obituary in The Irish Times, 10 January 2008, page12, quoting "Back in the Playground Blues", from the libretto for Start Again - a choral song cycle.
  10. ^ a b c "My Life". Adrian Mitchell's website. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  11. ^ Irish Times op cit
  12. ^ a b "Adrian Mitchell, British Poetry’s Voice of the Left, Dies at 76". The New York Times. 23 December 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  13. ^ To the Memory of Adrian Mitchell, 24 December 2008
  14. ^ Woolf, Jan (24 December 2003). "Obituary Letter: Adrian Mitchell". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  
  15. ^ Rosen, Michael (21 December 2003). "Adrian Mitchell 1932-2008". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 5 January 2009.  


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Adrian Mitchell (24 October 19322008-12-20) was an English poet and dramatist.


  • Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.
    • Poems (1964), Preface
  • I was run over by the truth one day.
    Ever since the accident I've walked this way
    • "To Whom It May Concern", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
    • Written in 1965, after hearing British troops might be sent to the Vietnam War.
  • You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
    You take the human being and you twist it all about
    So scrub my skin with women
    Chain my tongue with whisky
    Stuff my nose with garlic
    Coat my eyes with butter
    Fill my ears with silver
    Stick my legs in plaster
    Tell me lies about Vietnam.
    • "To Whom It May Concern", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
  • Lovers lie around in it
    Broken glass is found in it
    I like that stuff
    • "Stufferation", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
    • Other stanzas follow this pattern. Roger McGough wrote a version with the refrain "I like that stuff".
  • Here are some happy English soldiers.
    They are going to make the Irish happy.
    • "A Tourist Guide to England", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
  • May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
    — I didn't lay down my life in World War II
    so that you could borrow my wheelbarrow
    • "Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
  • Now God killed John Lennon and he let Barry Manilow survive,
    But the good Lord blessed little Adrian Mitchell with the fastest cock alive.
    • "Adrian Mitchell's Famous Weak Bladder Blues", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
  • I would have walked on the water
    But I wasn't fully insured.
    And the BMA sent a writ my way
    With the very first leper I cured.
    • "The Liberal Christ Gives a Press Conference", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)
  • When I am sad and weary
    When I think all hope has gone
    When I walk along High Holborn
    I think of you with nothing on
    • "Celia Celia", from Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits (1991)

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