Although best known for his novel A Clockwork Orange, later turned into a controversial 1972 film by Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess was a prolific author and musician, who wrote a further 32 novels and 25 works of non-fiction, and composed more than 250 pieces of music.
He was born John Burgess Wilson in Harpurhey on Sunday 25th February 1917, losing both his mother and only sister to an influenza epidemic just a year later.
This significantly influenced his work, as did life with his father, Joseph Wilson, who remarried in 1922 and moved to live above the Golden Eagle Pub in Miles Platting.
Growing up exposed to the highs and lows of city pub culture, Burgess was already writing by the time he enrolled at Xaverian College. He went on to study at the University of Manchester.
He took to novel writing during the 1950s and completed seven novels by 1962 including The Doctor is Sick and A Clockwork Orange.
Burgess’ prolific output continued throughout his life – including Blooms of Dublin, a musical adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a ballet suite about the life of William Shakespeare, A Dead Man in Deptford, a novel about the murder of playwright Christopher Marlowe, and what many consider to be his greatest work, Earthly Powers.
He travelled widely, living in Malaya, Malta, Monaco, Italy and the United States amongst other places, teaching at schools, colleges and universities whilst writing novels and frequently contributing to newspapers, magazines, and television and radio programmes.
He came to regret writing the novel for which he is best known today.
“Written a quarter of a century ago, a jeu d’esprit knocked off for money in three weeks, it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me till I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation.”
He died in London on 22nd November 1993 aged 76.
To celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday on 25 February 2017, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, an archive, performance venue and charity established in 2003 by his second wife Liana, is holding a special live performance at the Engine House on Cambridge Street in which Burgess’s life will be explored through his unpublished letters.
Drawing on the Foundation’s extensive archive of unpublished correspondence, the evening will present Burgess alongside a colourful cast of his friends and enemies, including Angela Carter, Graham Greene, Stanley Kubrick and Hunter S. Thompson.
Earlier in the day, a Anthony Burgess at 100 walking tour hosted by author Ed Glinert starts at St Ann’s Church in St Ann’s Square at 1.30pm and takes in parts of the city that influenced him, including John Dalton Street, New Cathedral Street and The Midland Hotel.
Expect tales of the weird and wonderful including the rumours of the young Burgess’ fling with a librarian following an indexing problem at the main library and his own claims that he was a descendant of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who visited Manchester in 1745 during his attempt to seize the British throne.
As Burgess once wrote: “It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.”