Penelope Gilliatt, née Conner, was born in London. Her father Cyril Conner, originally a lawyer, became a director of the BBC in in the North East, and she spent her early childhood in Northumberland. After attending Queen's College in England, she won a scholarship to Bennington College in Vermont. She dropped out during her first year and worked briefly for the Institute of Pacific Relations in New York City. She won a short story contest sponsored by British Vogue and returned to London to join the magazine's staff, rising to become features editor. She also contributed articles to The Spectator and New Statesman. In 1954, she married Roger Gilliatt, a neurosurgeon. She made her debut as a novelist in 1965 with One by One, later adapted into the screenplay for the award-winning 1971 film Sunday, Bloody Sunday. From 1961 to 1967, she served as film critic and drama critic of The Observer in London. In 1968, she joined the staff of The New Yorker as film critic, alternating columns at six-month intervals with Pauline Kael, a position she held until 1979. After a divorce from her first husband, she was married to playwright John Osborne from 1963 to 1968. During her career, she wrote five novels but was best known for her short stories, collected in Come Back if It Doesn't Get Better (1969), Nobody's Business (1972), Splendid Lives (1978), Quotations From Other Lives (1982), and They Sleep Without Dreaming (1985).