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Sansom was born in London, the third son of Ernest Brooks Sansom, M.I.N.A., a naval architect, by his wife Mabel (née Clark). He was educated at Uppingham School, Rutland, before moving to Bonn to learn German. Named 'Norman Trevor' at birth, he was called 'William' as a child and used this name throughout his life.
From 1930 Sansom worked in international banking for the British chapter of a German bank, and in 1935 he moved to an advertising company where he worked until the outbreak of World War II. Then he became a full-time London firefighter, serving throughout The Blitz. His experiences during that time inspired much of his writing, including many of the stories in the celebrated collection Fireman Flower. He also appeared in Humphrey Jennings's famous film about the Blitz, Fires Were Started, as the fireman who plays the piano.
After the war, Sansom became a full-time writer. In 1946 and 1947 he was awarded two literary prizes by the Society of Authors, and in 1951 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 1954, he married actress Ruth Grundy, daughter of Norman Grundy, FCA. They had two sons, Sean (adopted by Sansom; the son of Ruth Grundy's previous marriage to Grey Wilson Blake) and Nicholas.
As well as exploring war-torn London, Sansom's writing deals with romance (The Face of Innocence), murder ("Various Temptations"), comedy ("A Last Word") and supernatural horror ("A Woman Seldom Found"). The latter, perhaps his most anthologized story, combines detailed description with narrative tension to unravel a young man's encounter with a bizarre creature in Rome.
- The Body (1949)
- The Face of Innocence (1951)
- The Last Hours of Sandra Lee (1961)
- The Guilt in Wandering (1963)
- Hans Feet in love (1971)
- Skimpy (1974)
- A Young Wife's Tale (1974)
- The Cautious Heart
- The Loving Eye
- A Bed of Roses
- Goodbye (1966)
- The Equilibriad
Short story collections
- Fireman Flower (1944)
- South (1948)
- Something Terrible, Something Lovely (1948)
- The Passionate North (1950)
- A Touch of the Sun (1952)
- Lord Love Us (1954)
- A Contest of Ladies (1956)
- Among the Dahlias (1957)
- The Stories of William Sansom (1963)
- The Ulcerated Milkman (1966)
- The Marmalade Bird (1973)
- Various Temptations (2002)
- Westminster at War (1947)
- Pleasures Strange and Simple (1953)
- The Icicle and the Sun (1958)
- Blue Skies, Brown Studies (1961)
- Away to It All (1964)
- A Book of Christmas (1968)
- Grand Tour Today (1968)
- The Birth of a Story (1972)
- Proust and His World (1973)
- It Was Really Charlie's Castle
- The Light that Went Out
In his classical work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman used an extended paragraph of Sansom's A Contest of Ladies to develop his model of the social role and the dramaturgical approach to sociology.
- Michael Cox, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 784.
- Who Was Who, A. & C. Black, 1971.
- Everett Aaker, Encyclopedia of Early Television Crime Fighters, McFarland, 2006, p. 172.
- The Times, 21 April 1976, Obituary- 'Mr William Sansom: Author with loving eye for the London urban scene'
- The Guardian, 21 April 1976, Obituary
- "William Sansom | British Author | Biography".
- Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Anchor Books, 1959, pp. 4ff.