The name Bill Naughton may not resonate with the modern reader till I explain that he was the author of Alfie. He was from the gritty northern school of writers of the sixties typified by Keith Waterhouse, John Braine and Alan Sillitoe who are largely unread these days .
Bill Naughton was a close friend of my great Uncle Gus, an intellectual who had a bookshop and was extremely cultivated and knowledgeable in all the arts . I believe that Gus’s knowledge of Freud inspired Bill Naughton in his later days to trawl the subconscious and write about dreams. But I am getting ahead of myself. His background was working class Bolton where he was a coal deliverer. He started writing children’s books – good ones too, like the Goallkeeper’s Revenge – before his breakthrough novel Alfie followed by a successful play at Bernard Miles Mermaid Spring and Port Wine. Like many a northern working class hero he was none too keen to stay in the north, nor to pay too much tax, so to avoid both he and wife Erna decamped to the Isle of Man. He never attained the same literary heights nor success, popular or critical. Daphne du Maurier and John Le Carre, two of our most successful writers, seem to benefit from a semi-recluse life in Cornwall, but not Bill in the Isle of Man.
I recall my father telling me Bill, rather saddened by the turn of his life, confessed to Gus that he had underachieved and wondered what had he made of his life. Gus replied that he left a legacy. There would always be a bookshop selling one of his paperbacks. Yesterday I was in an antiquarian bookshop in Brighton called Page, enquiring if they had any first editions of Daphne du Maurier. They had not but behind a cabinet was a book by Bill (A Dog called Nelson) which I bought, telling the owner I do not like to leave a bookshop without purchasing a book. He doubted if Bill would now be remembered but I was able to tell him that my Uncle Gus’s prophesy had been realised.