Authors: Bernard Kops

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Identity: Jewish

Author Works


The Hamlet of Stepney Green, pr. 1958

Good-Bye World, pr. 1959

Change for the Angel, pr. 1960

The Dream of Peter Mann, pr., pb. 1960

Enter Solly Gold, pb. 1961 (music by Stanley Myers)

Stray Cats and Empty Bottles, pr. 1964 (televised), pr. 1967 (staged)

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Play Jesus, pr., pb. 1965

David, It Is Getting Dark, pr. 1966

It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow, pr. 1975 (televised), pr. 1976 (staged; with John Goldschmidt)

More out than In, pr. 1980

Ezra, pb. 1980

Simon at Midnight, pr. 1982 (radio play), pr. 1985 (staged)

Sophie (The Last of the Red Hot Mamas), pr. 1990

Playing Sinatra, pr. 1991

Dreams of Anne Frank, pr. 1992

Call in the Night, pr. 1995

Plays: One, pb. 1999

Plays: Two, pb. 2000

Plays: Three, pb. 2002

Long Fiction:

Awake for Mourning, 1958

Motorbike, 1962

Yes from No-Man’s Land, 1965

The Dissent of Dominick Shapiro, 1966

By the Waters of Whitechapel, 1969

The Passionate Past of Gloria Gaye, 1971

Settle Down Simon Katz, 1973

Partners, 1975

On Margate Sands, 1978


I Want to Go Home, 1963

The Last Years of Brian Hooper, 1967

Alexander the Great, 1971

Just One Kid, 1974

Moss, 1975

Rocky Marciano Is Dead, 1976

Night Kids, 1983

Radio Plays:

Home Sweet Honeycomb, 1962

The Lemmings, 1963

The Dark Ages, 1964

Bournemouth Nights, 1979

Over the Rainbow, 1980

Trotsky Was My Father, 1984


Poems, 1955

Poems and Songs, 1958

An Anemone for Antigone, 1959

Erica, I Want to Read You Something, 1967

For the Record, 1971

Barricades in West Hampstead, 1988

Grandchildren, and Other Poems, 2000


The World Is a Wedding, 1963 (autobiography)

Neither Your Honey nor Your Sting: An Offbeat History of the Jews, 1984

Shalom Bomb: Scenes from My Life, 2000 (autobiography)


Bernard Kops was born in Stepney, a Jewish immigrant area in the East End of London, to a Dutch-Jewish immigrant cobbler and a Dutch-Jewish mother. He was the youngest of four sisters and two brothers. Among the experiences that found their way into his work were his growing up in an intense and cosmopolitan (yet impoverished) environment, Fascist demonstrations and counterdemonstrations of the pre-World War II period, life in wartime London, and cultural (rather than religious) Jewishness. In Kops’s adolescent years during World War II, his family moved around England attempting to avoid the German bombing of London.{$I[AN]9810001811}{$I[A]Kops, Bernard}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Kops, Bernard}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Kops, Bernard}{$I[tim]1926;Kops, Bernard}

After 1945, Kops acted in repertory theater and traveled in France, Spain, and Tangier. His mother’s death in 1951 deeply affected him, and he was committed to a psychiatric hospital; these experiences were recorded in his 1959 narrative poem An Anemone for Antigone. Kops’s concern with mental states is found in his novel On Margate Sands, a study of five former psychiatric hospital patients. His writing is inhabited by frenetic characters plagued by extreme mood changes. His central preoccupations are the borderlines between sanity and insanity, dreams and psychiatric disturbance, and creativity and madness.

Stability came into Kops’s life with his meeting Erica Gordon, whom he married in 1956. They had four children. Beginning in the 1950’s, Kops made his living as a professional writer; he also taught and served as a writer-in-residence. Theatrical writing has been Kops’s main form. The early autobiographical play The Hamlet of Stepney Green used music to evoke nostalgia and to provide a melancholic and ironic commentary on the action. The central figure of the drama Enter Solly Gold is a charlatan, rather than–as in The Hamlet of Stepney Green–an oedipally obsessed working-class figure. David, It Is Getting Dark focuses on a reactionary writer plagiarizing the work of a poor Jewish writer. Ezra Pound is the subject of Kops’s well-known radio and theatrical play Ezra; at the drama’s core is Pound’s imprisonment and release. Irving Wardle noted in his London Times review that “no other living” dramatist matched Kops in the virtuoso handling of dream logic. In Playing Sinatra, an obsession with Frank Sinatra dominates the thoughts of the protagonists. Dreams of Anne Frank, a drama for children, is similarly preoccupied with flights of imaginative fantasy from the harsh realities of everyday existence. Call in the Night is concerned with the plight of childhood genius, memories, and the fate of the prodigy unable to perform. Sophie (The Last of the Red Hot Mamas) is about the great Yiddish music hall singer Sophie Tucker, and it juxtaposes song, dance, and memory to evoke atmosphere and to continue Kops’s explorations into memory, experience, and fantasy.

Radio was a natural medium for Kops’s explorations of lyrical dream fantasy; Ezra, for example, was originally written for the radio. Among his other radio plays was Trotsky Was My Father, which used a historic figure as the vehicle for reflections on dreams and disillusionment. Kops also wrote frequently for television; he adapted plays and wrote documentaries about the wartime bombing of London. Night Kids focused on contemporary social problems–child runaways in London, drugs, and prostitution.

Kops, highly skilled in many genres, was largely unswayed by the literary or political fashions of the second half of the twentieth century. Surrealism, fantasy, and the problems of identity pervade his novels. For example, in The Passionate Past of Gloria Gaye, presented through the use of first-person narrative, an evocative representation of the urban landscape of London is juxtaposed with surreal passages and images to convey the psychological disintegration of a suburban housewife. A nonfiction work, the autobiographical The World Is a Wedding, contains some of Kops’s most powerful and sustained writing focusing on childhood experiences and family conflicts; it eloquently depicts financially impoverished East End London Jewish life. Kops’s poetry, punctuated with lyricism and surrealism, frequently celebrates his love for his wife and concern for his children.

BibliographyCohn, Ruby. Modern Shakespeare Offshoots. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976. Kops wrote The Hamlet of Stepney Green in 1957, here discussed in the context of modern interpretations of the universal Hamlet character in “the life of Jewish immigrants in London’s East End–[Kops’s] own background.” Cohn sees Kops’s work as essentially a melodrama in which everyone but Hamlet “lives happily ever after.”Glanville, Brian. “The Anglo-Jewish Writer.” Encounter 14 (January, 1960): 62-64. Glanville, in this overview of the Anglo-Jewish writer, refers to Kops as “a young playwright [who] has written plays in the …romantic genre.” He discusses the scarcity of important Anglo-Jewish writers and their avoidance of Jewish life as a topic. Mentions Peter Shaffer, author of Five Finger Exercise (pr., pb. 1958), and several novelists as well.Kops, Bernard. “The Modest Muse.” Interview by Sue Limb. Listener 107 (April 29, 1982): 32. An interview with Kops on the occasion of the radio broadcast of Simon at Midnight. Kops’s life “pours through” the play, in “the surges of emotion; the all-powerful mother still laying down the law long after her death.” Kops views radio as “a close-up medium …intensely personal.” He mentions his large family, his writer-in-residence post at Hounslow, and his commissions for television and film scripts. Includes a photograph of the playwright.Kops, Bernard. “Oasis for Misfits.” New Statesman Society 3 (June 1, 1990): 40-41. Kops remembers the SoHo lifestyle from the late 1940’s to the mid-1950’s, when he was living on Arts Council awards and finding his creative voice, “talking, taking drugs, women, reading Finnegan’s Wake at 3 a.m.” A good self-sketch.Taylor, John Russell. The Angry Theatre: New British Drama. Rev. ed. New York: Hill & Wang, 1969. A fairly long description of Kops’s start at the Oxford Playhouse and Centre 42, and his contribution to British theater, especially The Hamlet of Stepney Green, The Dream of Peter Mann, and Enter Solly Gold.Wellwarth, George E. The Theater of Protest and Paradox. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1972. A chapter on Kops titled “The Jew as ‘Everyman’” deals with The Hamlet of Stepney Green, The Dream of Peter Mann, and Enter Solly Gold, all set in London but “modeled on the type of Jewish folk literature written by Sholom Aleichem or Isaac Babel.” The first two plays, says Wellwarth, are “sophomoric philosophy,” but Enter Solly Gold is “gay and witty,” and thus will not be taken seriously by “English critics who are fostering the new movement.”
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