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Keith Waterhouse/ Renaissance Man

I have always been a fan of Keith Waterhouse who passed away aged 81 in 2009. He was a massive talent, a polymath of all forms of writing.

He made his name with Willis Hall as a scriptwriter for David Frost forming a collaboration with Ned Sherrin the first producer of  That Was the Week That Was. This association with Sherrin endured all his life.

He wrote Billy Liar, which John Schlesinger directed as a film with Tom Courtenay and Julie Christie, the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, was arguably the country’s leading – certainly best paid- columnist first on the Daily Mirror then the Mail.

He even wrote the script for the Hitchcock film (starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews) Torn Curtain.

He is associated with an edgy northern school of writing and writers like David Storey, Alan Sillitoe, and John Braine.

One of them, Bill Naughton, is probably a name you do not know until I tell you he wrote Alfie. 

My parents knew Bill well, he was a close friend of my father’s uncle Gus, an extremity clever and wise man. My parents even met the actual Alfie.

After Alfie and a success with Spring and Port Wine at the Mermaid Theatre owned by Bernard Miles, a dramatic enterprise based in the City at Puddle Dock, Bill became so wealthy that he became a tax exile in the Isle of Man but his creative juices dried up.

Uncle Gus assisted him with a book on trawling the subconscious as he (Gus) was a leading expert on the dream theories of Freud. When Bill became disconsolate about his lack of legacy, Gus assured him that there will always be a bookshop selling his books and indeed I saw one in an Antiquarian one last year.

Almost all of these professional northerners moved down south pretty quickly.

Keith Waterhouse had a flat at Embassy Court Brighton, Michael Parkinson moved to Maidenhead.

Only Alan Bennett remained in Settle, Yorkshire.

Nonetheless it was a fecund source of creativity, not forgetting actors like Albert Finney from Salford and Tom Courtenay from Hull and the great northern soccer sides like Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester United and briefly Manchester City .

I very much enjoyed Billy Liar and its sequel Billy Liar On The Moon. Of Waterhouse’s later works I also enjoyed Our Song, a witty bittersweet account of a relationship with an unreliable but seductive woman based on an actual affaire he had.

I am presently reading Soho. The story is of Leeds lad Alex who finished up in Soho.

It’s something of pub crawl and is episodic. I don’t find it that engaging and consider his writing has lost its humorous cutting edge.

I guess this is what happens when you make enough money and move into a comfort zone where you all have to do is turn out a column a day and then get drunk.

About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts