May 21, 2024

Tom SharpeTom Sharpe, who has died aged 85, was in the great tradition of English comic novelists and his bawdy style and vulgar approach were said to have made bad taste into an art form. Sharpe did not start writing comic novels until he was 43, but once he got going he gained a large readership. Surprisingly for a comic writer and such a jovial character, Sharpe came to attention first as a hero in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He had written many symbolic – and unproduced – plays while living in South Africa, which was enough to bring down on him the wrath of the Bureau of State Security, but he was, he said, as surprised as anyone when in just three weeks he wrote the novel Riotous Assembly (1971), a dazzling comic send-up of the South African police. The inspiration for the book came from hearing about the old-fashioned English colonial aunt of a friend of his who lived near the police station and complained that the screams of tortured prisoners disturbed her afternoon naps. In a marvelous piece of irony, Sharpe dedicated the book to “the South African police force whose lives are dedicated to the preservation of western civilization in southern Africa.” Sharpe continued his noble crusade against racism in South Africa with Indecent Exposure (1973) – personally, one of my all-time favorite books. Readers thought Sharpe perhaps a one-subject writer, but with Porterhouse Blue (1974), set in a Cambridge college, he proved that he was a true comic novelist in the great English tradition. Born in Croydon, south London, Sharpe had a most unusual and troubled boyhood. His father, the Unitarian minister Reverend George Coverdale Sharpe, was a fascist, a follower of Oswald Mosley and a great believer in Adolf Hitler. From the start of the Second World War, the family was continuously on the move to avoid the father being interned with other British Nazis. Read the full obituary HERE.

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