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Bernard Kops Biography

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Nationality: British. Born: London, 1926. Education: Attended London elementary schools to age 13. Career: Has worked as a docker, chef, salesman, waiter, lift man, and barrow boy; writer-in-residence, London Borough of Hounslow, 1980-82; lecturer in Drama, Spiro Institute, 1985-86, Surrey, Ealing, and Inner London education authorities, 1989-90, and City Literary Institute, London, 1991. Awards: Arts Council bursary, 1957, 1979, 1985, 1990, 1991; C. Day Lewis fellowship, 1981-83. Agent: John Rush, Sheil Land Associates, 43 Doughty St., London WC1N 2LF, England.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Awake for Mourning. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1958.

Motorbike. London, New English Library, 1962.

Yes from No-Man's Land. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1965; New York, Coward McCann, 1966.

The Dissent of Dominick Shapiro. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1966; New York, Coward McCann, 1967.

By the Waters of Whitechapel. London, Bodley Head, 1969; New York, Norton, 1970.

The Passionate Past of Gloria Gaye. London, Secker and Warburg, 1971; New York, Norton, 1972.

Settle Down Simon Katz. London, Secker and Warburg, 1973.

Partners. London, Secker and Warburg, 1975.

On Margate Sands. London, Secker and Warburg, 1978.

Plays

The Hamlet of Stepney Green (produced Oxford, London, and New York, 1958). London, Evans, 1959.

Goodbye World (produced Guildford, Surrey, 1959).

Change for the Angel (produced London, 1960).

The Dream of Peter Mann (produced Edinburgh, 1960). London, Penguin, 1960.

Stray Cats and Empty Bottles (produced Cambridge, 1961; London, 1967).

Enter Solly Gold, music by Stanley Myers (produced Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, and Los Angeles, 1962; London, 1970). Published in Satan, Socialites, and Solly Gold: Three New Plays from England, New York, Coward McCann, 1961; in Four Plays, 1964.

Home Sweet Honeycomb (broadcast 1962). Included in Four Plays, 1964.

The Lemmings (broadcast 1963). Included in Four Plays, 1964.

Four Plays (includes The Hamlet of Stepney Green, Enter Solly Gold, Home Sweet Honeycomb, The Lemmings). London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1964.

The Boy Who Wouldn't Play Jesus (for children; produced London, 1965). Published in Eight Plays: Book 1, edited by Malcolm Stuart Fellows, London, Cassell, 1965.

David, It Is Getting Dark (produced Rennes, France, 1970). Paris, Gallimard, 1970.

It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow, with John Goldschmidt (televised 1975; produced London, 1976).

More Out Than In (produced on tour and London, 1980).

Ezra (produced London, 1981).

Simon at Midnight (broadcast 1982; produced London, 1985).

Some of These Days (produced London, 1990).

Sophie! Last of the Red Hot Mamas (produced London, 1990).

Dreams of Anne Frank (produced London, 1993).

Who Shall I Be Tomorrow (produced London, 1993).

Playing Sinatra (produced London, 1993).

Call in the Night (produced West Yorkshire, 1995).

Golem (produced London, 1995).

Radio Plays:

Home Sweet Honeycomb, 1962; The Lemmings, 1963; Born in Israel, 1963; The Dark Ages, 1964; Israel: The Immigrant, 1964; Bournemouth Nights, 1979; I Grow Old, I Grow Old, 1979; Over the Rainbow, 1980; Simon at Midnight, 1982; Trotsky Was My Father, 1984; Kafe Kropotkin, 1988; Colour Blind, 1989; Congress in Manchester, 1990; The Ghost Child, 1991; Soho Nights, 1991; Sailing with Homer, 1994; Protocols of Fire, 1995.

Television Plays:

I Want to Go Home, 1963; The Lost Years of Brian Hooper, 1967; Alexander the Greatest, 1971; Just One Kid, 1974; Why the Geese Shrieked and The Boy Philosopher, from stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1974; It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow, with John Goldschmidt, 1975; Moss, 1975; Rocky Marciano Is Dead, 1976; Night Kids, 1983; The Survivor, serial, 1991-92.

Poetry

Poems. London, Bell and Baker Press, 1955.

Poems and Songs. Northwood, Middlesex, Scorpion Press, 1958.

An Anemone for Antigone. Lowestoft, Suffolk, Scorpion Press, 1959.

Erica, I Want to Read You Something. Lowestoft, Suffolk, Scorpion Press, and New York, Walker, 1967.

For the Record. London, Secker and Warburg, 1971.

Barricades in West Hampstead. London, Hearing Eye, 1988.

Other

The World Is a Wedding (autobiography). London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1963; New York, Coward McCann, 1964.

Neither Your Honey nor Your Sting: An Offbeat History of the Jews. London, Robson, 1985.

Editor, Poetry Hounslow. London, Hounslow Civic Centre, 1981.

*

Manuscript Collections:

University of Texas, Austin; Indiana University, Bloomington.

Critical Studies:

By Colin MacInnes, in Encounter (London), May 1960; "The Kitchen Sink" by G. Wilson Knight, in Encounter (London), December 1963; "Deep Waters of Whitechapel" by Nina Sutton, in The Guardian (London), 6 September 1969.

* * *

The novels of Bernard Kops are an extension of his work as poet and playwright. His prose is rhythmic, almost ritualistic, and his plots unfold through dialogue. He is concerned with Jewishness, with the Jew as outsider to the world at large, and as a trapped insider in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the tightly knit Jewish family in which a child can find it almost impossible to grow up. So sixteen-year-old Dominick in The Dissent of Dominick Shapiro is driven to run away from home and join a collection of drop-outs protesting against established society; and in By the Waters of Whitechapel Aubrey, at thirty-five, can only free himself from his financial and emotional dependency on his mother by indulging in far-fetched fantasies of a prospective career which will bring him wealth and fame.

These goals have indeed been realized by the successful Jewish businessman, Daniel Klayman, in Partners, but his achievement leads him to madness. At the very height of his powers, while the house-warming celebrations for his new St. John's Wood home are in progress, he goes crazy. Lionel is his partner in lunacy, a projected doppelgänger, who pushes him into killing his new neighbor's dog, and which eventually engineers the situation which makes him responsible for the death of his beloved son, Zachary. Until that moment, despite the disastrous party, Daniel manages to disguise his madness by running away from his wife and family, and by pretending that Lionel is a real person, who is going to become a partner in his business and so relieve him of the stress and strain which has caused his strange behavior.

The lengths that the mad will go to in attempts to hide their condition is the theme of Kops's most mature novel, On Margate Sands. Here he abandons his Jewish concern for one which affects the whole of society, and which is even more urgent in Britain now than it was when this novel was published. He wrote his study of five former patients of a psychiatric hospital in the light of the 1975 Parliamentary White Paper on the revised services to the mentally ill as a result of new drug treatments. Because their sickness can be more or less controlled by "Happy tabs" as their warden landlady calls them, Brian, Larry, Dolores, Buzz, and Michelle can exist in sheltered accommodation outside the hospital.

On Margate Sands should be compulsory reading for any planners concerned with the present widespread closure of psychiatric hospitals, who still believe that "Community care" is anything more than a socially acceptable phrase. Kops's confused characters experience the reality of being "post-mad" in a society that is both fearful and uncaring. The owners of the run-down seaside hotel in which they are housed are clearly on to a money-making enterprise, squeezing their sick lodgers into cramped rooms, and kicking them out of the house during the daylight hours. The five of them walk the streets and lounge on the beach, and the "pre-mad" citizens of Margate and the frenzied holidaymakers do their best to ignore them.

Yet this is not simply a novel of social concern. It is one which could only have been written by a poet, for it demands that the reader experience the simultaneous levels of rational thought and irrational emotional response that lead to the bizarre and anti-social behavior of the insane. Like most of Kops's characters, Brian, the most integrated of the quintet, is a middle-aged man still in thrall to his parents, even though they are long dead. His emotional life stopped at the age of seven; and although he is both intellectually aware and well read (the novel's title comes from a quotation from T.S. Eliot with which he is familiar—"On Margate Sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing") he is incapable of controlling the violent impulses that push him back into his past. Yet he is capable of a real, non-sexual affection for the adolescent boy, Buzz, and is seriously concerned when the lad runs off with a group of drop-outs, who can be compared with the hippies that Dominick linked up with in the previous novel. In Brian's estimation, and in that of his creator, the Alternative Society offers its "ragged and self-indulgent" adherents a life that is no better than the killing waste of time experienced by former psychiatric patients at the mercy of the community.

Despite his wretched and crazy behavior, Brian has courage, determination and an ability to appreciate reality and the cruelty of the machine age. In a lyrical, rural passage, the old man Larry recalls family holidays in the Kent hop fields; so all five go off in search of the farm where he spent those childhood, summer days. Of course it has been mechanized, and this abrupt encounter with present reality is the fulcrum of the novel. His companions return to Margate, but Brian goes off on his own, tablet-less, on a quest for his lost sister and a sane and normal life. It cannot be achieved. In a state far worse than the one in which he set out he returns to Margate beach. His story of tragic waste is repeated in thousands of case studies, but it takes a poet to enable the "pre-mad" to enter the turbulent, sad world of the "post-mad."

—Shirley Toulson

[back] Steven N. Koppes (1957–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

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