Obituary: Tom Sharpe

Tom Sharpe, pictured in 1981 Sharpe split his time between Spain and Cambridgeshire

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Tom Sharpe, who has died in Spain at the age of 85, built a large and loyal following with best-selling books that combined farce, satire and vulgarity.

Porterhouse Blue (1974) and Blott on the Landscape (1975) were among his best-known works and were successfully adapted for television in the 1980s.

Porterhouse Blue saw the forces of tradition and change clash at an Oxbridge college, while Blott on the Landscape explored the impact of a road scheme on a country estate.

But he was perhaps best known for his Wilt series, five novels detailing the comic misadventures of an accident-prone lecturer.

The character, he said, "has the same uncertainties about the world that I have. But he carries them on into the enactment of fantasy and he tends to run into trouble."

Thomas Ridley Sharpe was born in London on 30 March 1928 and educated at Bloxham School in Oxfordshire.

He went on to study at Lancing College, a private boarding school in West Sussex, and to read history at Pembroke College in Cambridge.

His father, a Unitarian clergyman, was sympathetic to the Nazi regime in the 1930s. "I think he must have gone dotty," the author would later remark.

In time, the young Sharpe would completely reject his father's politics. "I discovered that Hitler was not the man I was led to believe he was," he said.

TOM SHARPE'S NOVELS

  • Riotous Assembly (1971)
  • Indecent Exposure (1973)
  • Porterhouse Blue (1974)
  • Blott on the Landscape (1975)
  • Wilt (1976)
  • The Great Pursuit (1977)
  • The Throwback (1978)
  • The Wilt Alternative (1979)
  • Ancestral Vices (1980)
  • Vintage Stuff (1982)
  • Wilt on High (1984)
  • Granchester Grind (1995)
  • The Midden (1996)
  • Wilt in Nowhere (2004)
  • The Gropes (2009)
  • The Wilt Inheritance (2010)

Sharpe did his national service in the Marines from 1946 to 1948 before reading history at Pembroke College in Cambridge.

Going to South Africa in 1951, he did social work in Johannesburg before teaching in Natal and running a photographic studio in Pietermaritzburg.

A vocal critic of the Apartheid regime, he was arrested and deported in 1961 after a play he wrote attacking it was staged in London.

"My advice, if you do go to jail, is to pick a murderer as a cellmate," he told Desert Island Discs' host Roy Plomley in 1984.

"He's very clean and not the professional. Burglars tend to be rather dirty in my experience, and rapists are not particularly pleasant either."

From 1963 to 1972, Sharpe worked as a lecturer in history at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology - experience he would draw on when he came to write Wilt.

A film version of that novel, starring comedy duo Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, was produced in 1989 but was not well received.

Sharpe's first novel - Riotous Assembly, a satire of Apartheid set in a fictional South African town - was published in 1971 when he was 43 and spawned a sequel, Indecent Exposure, two years later.

From that point on he produced a book every year, using one of the 17 typewriters he kept around his Cambridgeshire house.

In 1971 he married his American wife Nancy, and together they had three daughters.

Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones co-starred in the 1989 film version of Wilt

From the 1990s onwards, the author began dividing his time between England and Llafranc in north east Spain.

"I love England but I don't like the English," he told the Daily Express in 2010. "I can't bear the Brit culture, the hooliganism."

Sharpe's output became more sporadic in later life as he faced health problems and writer's block.

His final novel, The Wilt Inheritance, was published in 2010, though he had been working on an autobiography.

"I'll die at my typewriter," he said, citing his friend and hero, the prolific comic writer PG Wodehouse.

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