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Peter Barnes (January 10, 1931 – July 1, 2004) was an English Olivier Award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His most famous work is the play The Ruling Class, which was made into a 1972 film for which Peter O'Toole received an Oscar nomination.
Barnes was born in Bow, London, but was raised on the east coast, where his parents worked in an amusement arcade and later owned a couple of cafes. His upbringing in an English coastal resort probably helps explain the carnivalesque nature of his work. Barnes was educated at Marling School in Stroud, Gloucestershire and performed his national service with the Royal Air Force. After this he spent a short period working for London County Council.
Bored with his job, Barnes took a correspondence course in theology. It was at this time that he began to visit the British Museum reading room, which he used as an office on a daily basis. During this period he worked as a film critic, story editor, and a screenwriter. He achieved critical and box-office success with his baroque comedy The Ruling Class (1968), which debuted at the Nottingham Playhouse. The play was notorious for its anti-naturalistic approach, unusual in theatre at the time. Critic Harold Hobson deemed it to be one of the best first plays of its generation. Following a successful three-month run in the West End, Barnes adapted the play for the 1972 film of the same name, which featured a highly acclaimed performance by Peter O'Toole.