Novelist Tom Sharpe dies at 85 in Catalonia

Tom Sharpe, who had major success with his 16 books. Picture: PA
Tom Sharpe, who had major success with his 16 books. Picture: PA
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HE CAST a satirical eye over apartheid, Cambridge University and the vagaries of motorway construction, and once appealed to his legion of readers for pens.

Tom Sharpe, the comic novelist behind best-selling farces such as Blott on the Landscape and Porterhouse Blue, has died in Spain, aged 85.

The British author of 16 novels, including “Blott” and “Blue”, which became popular television dramas in the 1970s and 1980s, moved to northern Spain 20 years ago, as he preferred the healthcare system that he first encountered after having a heart attack live on Spanish TV.

He is understood to have died at his home in Llafranc in Catalonia.

Yesterday, Susan Sandon, managing director of his publisher, Cornerstone, said: “Tom Sharpe was one of our greatest satirists and a brilliant writer: witty, often outrageous, always acutely funny about the absurdities of life.

“The private Tom was warm, supportive and wholly engaging. I feel enormously privileged to have been his publisher.”

Despite moving from Cambridge to Spain in the early 1990s, he had little interest in learning Spanish and kept a circle of English-speaking friends.

“I don’t want to learn the language. I don’t want to hear what the price of meat is,” he once said in an interview with a journal for British residents in Spain.

However, he had also become disenchanted with life in the UK.

“It is so depressing. I can’t bear it. There is no such thing as the English gentleman any more,” he said. “Money rules everything.”

Over the years, he became a local celebrity in his adopted Spanish homeland, and his books are popular in the country.

A spokesman for the local government in Palafrugell, which includes Llafranc, said: “We are saddened by the death of Tom Sharpe. He came here years ago and he just stayed, but used to leave the town in summer because he said there were too many people around.”

He said he was unsure of the cause of death but that Sharpe had been in “delicate health for some time”.

Spanish newspapers reported he had died as a result of complications from diabetes.

The novelist won huge acclaim for his work, with the Times calling him “the funniest novelist writing today”, although he did not publish his first book, Riotous Assembly, until 1971, when he was 43.

Within a few years, he had published his best-known works, Porterhouse Blue, Wilt and Blott on the Landscape.

As a teenager, he was raised in difficult circumstances – his father was the Rev George Sharpe, a Unitarian minister, follower of Oswald Moseley and admirer of Adolf Hitler, who attempted to indoctrinate his son with his views.

The family kept on the move during the Second World War to avoid his arrest, and when the full horrors of Nazism emerged with the liberation of the concentration camps, Tom Sharpe almost had a nervous breakdown.

After studying at Lancing College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, he served in the Royal Marines before moving to South Africa in his early 20s, where he was a social worker and teacher, while also running his own photographic studio.

However, after ten years, he was deported for criticising the country’s apartheid regime and returned to the UK to lecture at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, a period that helped inspire his character Wilt, who featured in five novels.

The BBC adaptation of Blott on the Landscape starred George Cole, Geraldine James and David Suchet, while David Jason headed the cast of Porterhouse Blue when it was made for TV.

After publishing a novel a year, there was an 11-year gap between 1984 and 1995, during which he continued to write but considered nothing worth publishing.

When a particular pen with which he wrote went out of production, he asked his readers to send him theirs.

Sharpe once said that he hoped to die at his typewriter – he had no fewer than 17 of them.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais said Sharpe’s funeral would take place at the weekend, with his ashes being scattered at his Spanish home, as well as in Cambridge.

Four of his finest – and funniest – escapades

1 Blott on the Landscape (1975) Sir Giles Lynchwood is a reverse-Nimby, pretending to oppose the construction of a planned motorway bypass. Blott, a former German prisoner-of-war is destined to foil his plans.

2 Porterhouse Blue (1974) The fate of the fictional Cambridge college of Porterhouse is in the hands of Sir Godber Evans who plans to dismantle 500 years of tradition with the introduction of contraceptive machines, female students and a canteen.

3 Wilt (1976) The novel follows the misadventures of Henry Wilt, an assistant lecturer in a south of England community college who, in between dealing with uninterested apprentices, dreams of killing his insufferable, hen-pecking wife.

4 Riotous Assembly (1971) A comic mockery of the South African police. Sharpe dedicated the book to “the South African police force whose lives are dedicated to the preservation of western civilisation in southern Africa”.