Tom Sharpe

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Tom Sharpe
BornThomas Ridley Sharpe
(1928-03-30)30 March 1928
London, England
Died6 June 2013(2013-06-06) (aged 85)
Llafranc, Catalonia, Spain
Alma materPembroke College, Cambridge
Notable worksWilt series, Porterhouse Blue, Blott on the Landscape

Thomas Ridley Sharpe (30 March 1928 – 6 June 2013)[1] was an English satirical novelist, best known for his Wilt series, as well as Porterhouse Blue and Blott on the Landscape, all three of which were adapted for television.

Pembroke College, Cambridge University


Sharpe was born in Holloway, London, and brought up in Croydon.[2] Sharpe's father, the Reverend George Coverdale Sharpe, was a Unitarian minister who was active in far-right politics in the 1930s.[3] He was chairman of the Acton and Ealing branch of The Link, and a member of the Nordic League. He declared that he hated Jews "in the sense that he hated all corruption".[4] Sharpe initially shared some of his father's views, but was horrified on seeing films of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.[5][6]

University of Cambridge[edit]

Sharpe was educated at Bloxham School, on which he based Groxbourne in Vintage Stuff, followed by Lancing College. He then did National Service in the Royal Marines before being admitted to Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read history and social anthropology.[3]

South Africa[edit]

Sharpe moved to South Africa in 1951,[7] where he worked as a social worker and a teacher.[7][8] He was friendly with the activist and artist Harold Strachan until they fell out over a woman.[9] Sharpe's time in South Africa inspired his novels Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure,[7] in which he mocked the apartheid regime. He also wrote a play, The South African, which was critical of the regime. After it was performed in London, Sharpe was arrested for sedition in 1961 and deported from South Africa.[10][7][11]

Teaching and later life[edit]

After returning to England, Sharpe took a position as a history lecturer at the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, later Anglia Ruskin University.[7] This experience inspired his Wilt series[7] in which he derides popular English culture. From 1995 onward he and his American wife, Nancy, divided their time between Cambridge and their home in Llafranc, Spain,[6] where he wrote Wilt in Nowhere.[12] The couple had three daughters.[10] Despite living in Catalonia, he did not learn either Spanish or Catalan. "I don't want to learn the language," he said, "I don't want to hear what the price of meat is."[12]


Sharpe died on 6 June 2013 in Llafranc from complications of diabetes at the age of 85.[13] He was reported to have been working on an autobiography.[10] It was also said that he had suffered a stroke a few weeks earlier.[14] Paying tribute, the author Robert McCrum wrote "The Tom Sharpe I knew was generous, acerbic, engaging, and full of wicked fun."[15] Susan Sandon, Sharpe's editor at Random House, remarked that he was "witty, often outrageous, always acutely funny about the absurdities of life".[16] His ashes were interred in the graveyard at the remote church in Thockrington, Northumberland, where his father had been a preacher.[17]


Blott on the Landscape was adapted by BBC TV in 1985 and broadcast in six episodes of 50 minutes each. It was scripted by Malcolm Bradbury and starred George Cole as Sir Giles Lynchwood, Geraldine James as Lady Maud and David Suchet as Blott.[18]

In 1987 Porterhouse Blue was adapted for television, again by Bradbury, in four episodes for Channel 4. It starred David Jason as Skullion and Ian Richardson as Sir Godber Evans.[19]

In 1989 Wilt was made into a film by LWT, featuring Griff Rhys Jones as Henry Wilt, Mel Smith as Inspector Flint and Alison Steadman as Eva Wilt.[20][21]

Critical response[edit]

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."[22] Leonard R. N. Ashley wrote in the Encyclopedia of British Humorists that "Sharpe's humorous techniques naturally derive from his fundamental approach, which is that of the furious farceur who compounds anger and amusement."[23] and "His dialogue is deft and more restrained than his characterization, which sometimes is mere caricature ..."[23] Ashley also quotes reviews and comments by many critics, and cites 21 published reviews or critical comments on Sharpe's work, with brief summaries or quotations from each.[24]


Martin Levin, in a review of Porterhouse Blue, wrote that "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."[25] Adrian Mourby wrote that "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."[26] 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."[27]


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 bestsellerdom. 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 ..."[28] More critically, 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 rail 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."[29]

Sharpe sent up the class-conscious English writer Dornford Yates in Indecent Exposure. He worked on an adaptation of Yates' thriller She Fell Among Thieves for the BBC in 1977, which contained similar elements of parody.


Piemburg, South Africa series[edit]

  • Riotous Assembly (1971) ISBN 9780871131430
  • Indecent Exposure (1973) ISBN 9780871131423

Porterhouse Blue series[edit]

Wilt series[edit]

Other novels[edit]


  1. ^ "Tom Sharpe, Porterhouse Blue novelist, dies aged 85". BBC. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  2. ^ "Tom Sharpe". The Daily Telegraph. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Tom Sharpe obituary". The Guardian. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  4. ^ Richard Griffiths, Patriotism Perverted, Constable, 1998, pp. 40-41, citing TNA HO 144/21379/277.
  5. ^ "Tom Sharpe: Comic novelist and satirist who created the Wilt series and Porterhouse Blue". The Independent. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  6. ^ a b Kirkley, Paul. "An audience with Tom Sharpe". Cambridge Evening News. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  7. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  8. ^ "Tom Sharpe". Author Spotlight. Random House. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  9. ^ Johnson, R.W. (2013). "We Owe Tom Sharpe a Thousand Laughs". Standpoint. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b c "Obituary: Tom Sharpe". BBC. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  11. ^ "South Africa Ousting Author". The New York Times. 9 November 1961. p. 28.
  12. ^ a b "Why Tom Sharpe left Cambridge for Catalonia". Expatica. October 2004. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  13. ^ "Wilt Author Tom Sharpe Dies In Spain Aged 85". Sky News. 6 June 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  14. ^ Preston, Peter (6 June 2013). "Tom Sharpe: a relentless writer". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  15. ^ McCrum, Robert (6 June 2013). "Tom Sharpe remembered". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  16. ^ Roche, Elisa (7 June 2013). "Tom Sharpe, author of Blott On The Landscape, dies at 85". Daily Express. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  17. ^ "Ashes of writer Tom Sharpe buried at ceremony in remote Northumberland church yard";The Journal 3 June 2014
  18. ^ Bigbsy, Chris. "Adapting Blott on the Landscape – exceprt from lecture/discussion". Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  19. ^ "Porterhouse Blue". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  20. ^ Tuchner, Michael (12 January 1990), The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt, retrieved 28 August 2016
  21. ^ "Wilt (The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt) (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  22. ^ Dirda, Michael (15 December 1999). "Dirda on Books". Washington Post (online). Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  23. ^ a b Ashley, Leonard R. N. (March 1996). Steven H. Gale (ed.). Encyclopedia of British Humorists. Routledge. p. 954. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  24. ^ Ashley, Leonard R. N. (March 1996). Steven H. Gale (ed.). Encyclopedia of British Humorists. Routledge. pp. 954–957. ISBN 0-8240-5990-5. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  25. ^ Levin, Martin (14 May 1989). "Paperback Guide". The Victoria Advocate. p. 10. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  26. ^ Mourby, Adrian (21 February 1997). "Death of the Dons Quixote". Times higher Education. London: TSL Education Ltd. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  27. ^ Moorehead, Caroline (10 September 2005). "Campaigning on the campus". The Spectator. London. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  28. ^ "The Great Pursuit by Tom Sharpe". Los Angeles Times Book Review. 8 October 1978. p. M22. Retrieved 2 February 2010.
  29. ^ Payne, Tom (22 August 2004). "Music to scare bears by". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2 February 2010.

External links[edit]