Tom Sharpe

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Tom Sharpe
Born Thomas Ridley Sharpe
(1928-03-30)30 March 1928
Holloway, London
Died 6 June 2013(2013-06-06) (aged 85)
Llafranc, Catalonia, Spain
Occupation Novelist
Language English
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Notable work(s) Wilt series, Porterhouse Blue, Blott on the Landscape

Thomas Ridley Sharpe (30 March 1928 – 6 June 2013)1 was an English satirical novelist, best known for his Wilt series, as well as Porterhouse Blue and Blott on the Landscape, which were both adapted for television.

Born in 1928 in Croydon, Sharpe was an alumnus of Pembroke College, Cambridge, before moving to South Africa for a decade then being deported for sedition for speaking out against apartheid. He returned to England to lecture before spending time between the UK and Spain, writing a series of novels. He died in 2013 from complications of diabetes.

Life

Sharpe was born in Croydon2 (or Holloway and brought up in Croydon).3 Sharpe's father, Rev George Coverdale Sharpe, was a Unitarian minister, who was active in far right politics in the 1930s.2 Rev Sharpe was chairman of the Acton and Ealing branch of The Link and a member of the Nordic League who declared that he hated Jews "in the sense that he hated all corruption".4 Sharpe initially shared some of his father's views, but was horrified on seeing films of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.56

Sharpe was educated at Bloxham School followed by Lancing College and then did National Service in the Royal Marines, before going to Pembroke College, Cambridge where he studied history and social anthropology.2

Sharpe moved to South Africa in 1951,7 where he worked as a social worker and a teacher,78 before being deported for sedition in 1961.79 His time in South Africa inspired the novels Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure,7 in which he mocks the apartheid regime. After a play he wrote, The South African, which was critical of the regime was performed in London, Sharpe was arrested and deported from South Africa.10

Upon returning to England, Sharpe took a position as a history lecturer at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, later Anglia Ruskin University,7 which inspired his Wilt series7 in which he derides popular English culture. From 1995, he and his American wife Nancy divided their time between Cambridge and their home in Llafranc, Spain,6 where he wrote Wilt in Nowhere.11 The couple had three daughters.10 Despite living in Catalonia he did not learn either Spanish or Catalan. "I don't want to learn the language," he said. "I don't want to hear what the price of meat is."11

Sharpe died on 6 June 2013 in Llafranc, in Costa Brava, from complications of diabetes. He was 85.12 He was reported to have been working on an autobiography.10 He had also been reported to have suffered a stroke a few weeks before his death.13 Paying tribute, the author Robert McCrum wrote "The Tom Sharpe I knew was generous, acerbic, engaging, and full of wicked fun."14 Sharpe's editor at Random House, Susan Sandon remarked that he was "witty, often outrageous, always acutely funny about the absurdities of life".15

Adaptations

Wilt was made into a film by LWT in 1989, featuring Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith and Alison Steadman.16

Blott on the Landscape was adapted by BBC TV in 1985 and broadcast in six episodes of 50 minutes each. It was scripted by Malcolm Bradbury. Sir Giles Lynchwood was played by George Cole, with Geraldine James as Lady Maud and David Suchet as Blott.17

In 1987, Porterhouse Blue was adapted for television, again by Bradbury, for Channel 4 in four episodes. It starred David Jason as Skullion and Ian Richardson as Sir Godber Evans.18

Critical response

The Los Angeles Times wrote of The Great Pursuit "No one, from author to critic, goes unscathed in this satire on the publishing business on both sides of the Atlantic. Agent Frensic comes across a deliciously filthy, but anonymous, manuscript that promises best sellerdom. Frensic supplies a fake author and they are off down the primrose path. Much of this book is funny and devastatingly accurate until the plot disperses..."19

Michael Dirda said in an interview: "Tom Sharpe is very funny—but exceptionally vulgar, crude and offensive. Many view him as Britain's funniest living novelist. Most people feel that his first two novels, set in a fictionalized South Africa, are his best: Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure."20

Martin Levin, in a review of Porterhouse Blue, wrote "Sharpe is one of England's funniest writers. He's in the tradition of the 19th-century satirist, Thomas Love Peacock, who wrote novels of ideas laced with physical, slapstick farce."21

Adrian Mourby wrote "Tom Sharpe's Porterhouse Blue and Vintage Stuff are books that hark back to a golden age of academic dottiness, of the kind that has all but disappeared since the 1940s when Sharpe himself was a student."22

Tom Payne wrote of Wilt in Nowhere "Even half an hour after reading Tom Sharpe's 14th novel, it's difficult to remember what happened in it. ... Wilt is a victim of our times, and Sharpe doesn't seem to like them much. ... Sharpe might be happier in another age – the 18th century, perhaps – but even then he'd find plenty to rail against. It's tempting to see him as a contemporary Smollett: his plots are guided by whatever vices he feels like including, or whatever images are in his head. ... Wilt in Nowhere isn't Sharpe's finest work. His best tales put the reader firmly in a world: we can cherish the memories of the atavistic dons in Porterhouse Blue, or rail at the South African police in Indecent Exposure (1973). The present novel is simply a hapless tour of bits of England and Florida, in which colourful things happen and puzzle the police."23

Caroline Moorehead writes (in a review of Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and its Discontents) "When I was a fellow of Peterhouse, back in the Eighties, I was asked with tedious regularity whether the experience resembled Porterhouse Blue, Tom Sharpe’s grotesquely overblown satire. But even as I (truthfully) denied it, a few vignettes would slide past my mind’s eye — such as my very first Governing Body meeting, when, sombrely robed, the fellows debated, hotly and with manifest ill-will, whether the vomit by the chapel was beer- or claret-based."24

Leonard R. N. Ashley in the Encyclopedia of British Humorists, wrote "Sharpe's humorous techniques naturally derive from his fundamental approach, which is that of the furious farceur who compounds anger and amusement."25 and "His dialogue is deft and more restrained than his characterization, which sometimes is mere caricature..."25 Ashley also quotes reviews and comments by many critics, and cites 21 published reviews or critical comments on Sharpe's work, with brief summaries or quotes from each.26

Bibliography

Porterhouse Blue series

Wilt series

Other novels

References

  1. ^ "Tom Sharpe, Porterhouse Blue novelist, dies aged 85". BBC. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "Tom Sharpe obituary". The Guardian. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Tom Sharpe". The Daily Telegraph. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Richard Griffiths, "Patriotism Perverted", Constable, 1998, pp. 40-41, citing TNA HO 144/21379/277.
  5. ^ "Tom Sharpe: Comic novelist and satirist who created the Wilt series and Porterhouse Blue". The Independent. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Kirkley, Paul. "An audience with Tom Sharpe". Cambridge Evening News. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Ray, Mohit K. (September 2007). The Atlantic Companion to Literature in English. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 473. ISBN 978-81-269-0832-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  8. ^ "Tom Sharpe". Author Spotlight. Random House. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  9. ^ "South Africa Ousting Author". The New York Times. 9 November 1961. p. 28. 
  10. ^ a b c "Obituary: Tom Sharpe". BBC. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Why Tom Sharpe left Cambridge for Catalonia". Expatica. October 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  12. ^ "Wilt Author Tom Sharpe Dies In Spain Aged 85". Sky News. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  13. ^ Preston, Peter (6 June 2013). "Tom Sharpe: a relentless writer". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  14. ^ McCrum, Robert (6 June 2013). "Tom Sharpe remembered". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  15. ^ Roche, Elisa (7 June 2013). "Tom Sharpe, author of Blott On The Landscape, dies at 85". Daily Express. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  16. ^ "Wilt (The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt) (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Bigbsy, Chris. "Adapting Blott on the Landscape – exceprt from lecture/discussion". MalcolmBradbury.com. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  18. ^ "Porterhouse Blue". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  19. ^ "The Great Pursuit by Tom Sharpe". Los Angeles Times Book Review. 8 October 1978. p. M22. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  20. ^ Dirda, Michael (15 December 1999). "Dirda on Books". Washington Post (online). Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  21. ^ Levin, Martin (14 May 1989). "Paperback Guide". The Victoria Advocate. p. 10. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  22. ^ Mourby, Adrian (21 February 1997). "Death of the Dons Quixote". Times higher Education (London: TSL Education Ltd.). Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  23. ^ Payne, Tom (22 Aug 2004). "Music to scare bears by". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  24. ^ Moorehead, Caroline (10 September 2005). "Campaigning on the campus". The Spectator (London). Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  25. ^ a b Ashley, Leonard R. N. (March 1996). Steven H. Gale, ed. Encyclopedia of British Humorists. Routledge. p. 954. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  26. ^ Ashley, Leonard R. N. (March 1996). Steven H. Gale, ed. Encyclopedia of British Humorists. Routledge. pp. 954–957. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 

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