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Friday 4 September 2009


Saddened to learn that Keith Waterhouse died today, aged 80. He’d been ‘unwell’ for some time, doubtless emulating his friend Jeffrey Bernard… He was one of my writing idols. Waterhouse came from humble beginnings in Leeds but had the gift of words laced with humour. He was a great advocate for protecting the apostrophe from Philistines, ignoramuses and lazy officialdom, long before Lynne Truss adopted his standard.

Many years ago, I used to buy the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. They gave me two politically biased views of the world where news was concerned, so I could more or less work out that reality was perhaps somewhere in between. But I liked the Mirror for two special reasons: it contained the strip cartoon ‘The Perishers’ and at the time a Keith Waterhouse column. Later, Waterhouse moved to the Mail.

He was a consummate puncturer of pomposity. I have many books by him, besides his most famous, Billy Liar (1959); he wrote a sequel, Billy Liar on the Moon (1975). My two favourites are Waterhouse at Large, being samples of his columns from the Mirror, the Times and the Observer, and English, Our English (and how to sing it). Anyone who appreciates the written word will find joy in these books. He was prolific and versatile. I have two of his autobiographies, City Lights and Streets Ahead. He loved playing with words but respected the English language. It doesn’t matter which of his books you pick up – whether on Travel, Lunch or Newspaper Style, you’ll enjoy them at several levels.

In his later years, his facial features seemed to fit what many of his pieces may have been considered to be: curmudgeonly; it's as if the word was invented solely for him... He was inventive, funny and generous of nature. A great wordsmith has gone, but his words linger on.

He was known to drink champagne every day – he didn’t drive at all. So, to toast his memory tonight I shall open a bottle of Cava (heresy of heresies, but it’s cheaper yet as good as many champagnes). Cheers, Keith.


I.J. Parnham said...

The news saddened me too. I've pretty much read all of his books and as you say it didn't seem to matter what he wrote, fiction or non-fiction, it was always fascinating. My personal favourite was his novel Thinks.

Nik Morton said...

Yes, that's probably why he was never a big seller after Billy Liar. His output was so varied and he couldn't be pigeonholed.

David Robinson said...

I go for Office Life, but I began with There is a Happy Land and inevitably, Billy Liar.

A brilliant writer who is sadly missed.

Nik Morton said...

Yes, I agree, David, I particularly enjoyed Office Life - almost Kafkaesque, I felt.