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 characterized as ‘the killing ground’”. He then went to Greenways at Ashton Gifford House in Wiltshire, run at the time by a friend of his mother.
Adrian Mitchell is one of the finest poets and playwrights that the world of English literature has ever seen. His poetry dominated the English ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ movement for decades. Mitchell was a pacifist and he realised this when he was engaged in his service with the ‘Royal Air Force’.
His poems had a universal appeal, and one of his poems ‘To Whom It May Concern’ is relevant till date, which had been modified many times by the poet himself in accordance with recent events.
He was against the notion that war could bring order, peace, and the like, and tried his level best to propagate this idea through his writings. He was more prolific as a playwright than a poet, and his first play was staged when he was only nine years old.
While studying in ‘Greenways School’, his first play ‘The Animals’ Brain Trust’ was performed. Mitchell was only nine years old back then. Soon after, he penned his first novel and also first play for television, and gradually, started to work as a freelance journalist, by writing for newspapers and tabloids such as ‘Daily Mail’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Sunday Times’. However, he resigned from his journalism career during the 1960s, and concentrated on his literary works by composing poems, stories and plays.
Mitchell was committed to a form of poetry that welcomes as many people as possible – he was, perhaps, best known for saying that “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.”
Thus his work deals with recognisable subjects in clear, modern language, and can revel in strong rhythms, drawn as often from the blues and pop music as from the poetic canon. ‘In My Two Small Fists’, for example, makes a litany of remembered treasures that include “prickly heather / cowrie shells / and a seagull’s feather”.
His commitment to pacifist politics was equally strong; he first came to public attention as a poet during protests against the Vietnam War, and was appointed by Red Pepper as the Shadow Poet Laureate – poems such as ‘Playground’ and ‘Roundabout’ were written in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, which took place only weeks before this recording was made.
The small human story of the first of these poems and the big-picture take of the second demonstrate the range of his vision, and the sardonic rhymes of ‘Playground’ show his ability with humour as a weapon against oppressive forces. Ted Hughes described him as “a voice as welcome as Lear’s fool.
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”.