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British writer, Anthony Burgess (1917-1993), best known for his 1962 book, A Clockwork Orange, was in kinship care as a child. 

Anthony Burgess was born John Burgess Wilson in Carisbrook Street, Harpurhey, Manchester. John’s mother, Elizabeth Burgess, was a singer and dancer known on music hall posters as the Beautiful Belle Burgess. His father, Joseph Wilson, was a bookkeeper by day and a piano player by night. 

John’s mother and older sister, Muriel, died in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. From then, John was in the care of his mother’s sister, Ann Bromley, until his father remarried in 1922. 

[Ann Bromley] was a war widow with two daughters…my father was a lodger, visible mainly on Friday evenings, when he brought home a prime joint from the beef market. For the rest of the time he drank or tried to cut down on his drinking by playing the piano in one of the local cinemas. He then combined both diversions by becoming the regular pianist at the Golden Eagle, a huge pub on Lodge Street, Miles Platting. There he met his second wife, who was the widowed landlady. In 1922 I was told that she was my new mother. Before then I call my aunt mother (Burgess p. 19). 

John began school in 1923 and in 1924, his father and step-mother, Margaret Dwyer, took over a tobacconist’s shop. The adult Anthony Burgess wrote in 1987 that what he most regretted about his childhood was the “emotional coldness”. His step-mother was not brutal, but she was at best ‘neutral’ and his father was largely absent. 

John Burgess Wilson graduated from the Victoria University of Manchester in 1940 with a degree in English Literature. For six years he served in the Army after which he taught in various colleges and was English master at Banbury Grammar School in 1950. While he was working as an education officer in Malaya and Borneo his first published novel, Time for a Tiger, appeared under the name of Anthony Burgess. He wrote two more novels with a Malayan setting before he was discharged from the British Colonial Services because of ill health. 

Back in England from 1959, Burgess became a prolific writer. By the time A Clockwork Orange appeared, he had published another six novels. He also worked as a literary journalist and contributed to television and radio programs. 

Anthony Burgess was also a well-known composer of more than two hundred pieces of music, including a libretto for the Glasgow production of Scottish Opera’s Oberon in 1985. 


Burgess, Anthony. Little Wilson and Big God. London: Heinemann, 1987. 

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation. 

Sutherland, John. Lives of the Novelists. A history of fiction in 294 lives. London: Profile Books, 2013.  

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