He moved to South Africa in 1951, where he worked as a social worker and a teacher, before being deported for sedition in 1961. His time in South Africa inspired the novels Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, in which he mocks the apartheid regime. Upon returning to England, he took a position as a history lecturer at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, which inspired his Wilt series in which he derides popular English culture.
As of 2004, he was living in Llafranc, Catalonia, where he wrote Wilt in Nowhere. Despite living in Spain he has not learned either Catalan or Spanish. "I don't want to learn the language," he says. "I don't want to hear what the price of meat is."
Several of his works became best sellers.
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..."
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."
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."
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."
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 reel 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."
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."
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." and "His dialogue is deft and more restrained than his characterization, which sometimes is mere caricature..." Ashley also quotes reviews and comments by many critics, and cites some 21 published reviews or critical comments on Sharpe's work, with brief summaries or quotes from each.
Porterhouse Blue Series 
Wilt Series 
- Wilt (1976)
- The Wilt Alternative (1979)
- Wilt On High (1984)
- Wilt in Triplicate (omnibus) (1996)
- Wilt in Nowhere (2004)
- The Wilt Inheritance (2010)
Other novels 
- Riotous Assembly (1971)
- Indecent Exposure (1973)
- Blott on the Landscape (1975)
- The Great Pursuit (1977)
- The Throwback (1978)
- Ancestral Vices (1980)
- Vintage Stuff (1982)
- The Midden (1996)
- The Gropes (2009)
- Selected Works (1986)
- Tom Sharpe Library Pack (2001)
Short stories 
- Stirring the Pot (1994)
- The anthology Knights of Madness: Further Comic Tales of Fantasy (1998) features a story by Tom Sharpe
- 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.
- "Tom Sharpe". Author Spotlight. Random House. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- "South Africa Ousting Author". New York Times. 9 November 1961. p. 28.
- "Why Tom Sharpe left Cambridge for Catalonia". Expatica. October 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- "The Great Pursuit by Tom Sharpe". Los Angeles Times Book Review. 8 October 1978. p. M22. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Dirda, Michael (15 December 1999). "Dirda on Books". Washington Post (online). Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Levin, Martin (14 May 1989). "Paperback Guide". The Victoria Advocate. p. 10. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Mourby, Adrian (21 February 1997). "Death of the Dons Quixote". Times higher Education (London: TSL Education Ltd.). Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Payne, Tom (22 Aug 2004). "Music to scare bears by". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Moorehead, Caroline (10 September 2005). "Campaigning on the campus". The Spectator (London). Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Ashley, Leonard R. N. (March 1996). In Steven H. Gale. Encyclopedia of British Humorists. Routledge. p. 954. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
- Ashley, Leonard R. N. (March 1996). In Steven H. Gale. Encyclopedia of British Humorists. Routledge. pp. 954–957. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010.