Keith Waterhouse CBE – 1929-2009

The journalistic and literary world is mourning the loss of Keith Waterhouse who died on 4th September aged 80.

It is more than probable that Keith would have deplored anyone weeping at his demise and would have advised going to the nearest pub and raising a glass or four in his memory.

Keith Waterhouse started his writing career on the Yorkshire Post in 1950, having previously worked as a cobbler’s assistant and a clerk at an undertakers. Born in Hunslet, Leeds, he learned from an enthusiastic schoolmaster to love books and reading and is said to have conned his local library into giving him extra library tickets.

He applied and was turned down for a job on the Daily Mirror news team, but managed to secure some freelance work for the features editor. Later he came to the attention of Hugh Cudlipp, then the editorial director. Cudlipp recognised his talent and Waterhouse thrived and developed his abilities.

One of his best known and best loved novels is ‘Billy Liar’, which has seen stage and screen adaptations with Albert Finney and Tom Courteney respectively in the starring role.

Waterhouse collaborated with Willis Hall on many more well known screenplays for film including ‘Whistle down the Wind’, ‘A Kind of Loving’, Torn Curtain’  and also for TV including ‘Worzel Gummidge’ and the satirical news programme ‘That Was the Week That Was’

He was a great practical joker, once tricking a friend, fellow journalist Peter Tory to remove his trousers and making off with them leaving his friend to borrow a pair of chef’s trousers to go home in. The trousers went on to ‘meet’ a series of Conservative party MP’s and Ministers and to ‘make’ clandestine phone calls about their whereabouts and activities over the next few weeks.

Keith Waterhouse was married, and divorced twice. His first marriage to Joan Foster in 1950 produced three children, two of whom survive him. He married for the second time in 1984 to Stella Bingham and even though they divorced in 1989, Stella continued to look after him and they remained close friends.  He was always a prodigious drinker and bon viveur but never actually an alcoholic and had the reputation of being at his desk promptly in the morning regardless of any partying the night before. He claimed that God had given him the blessing of the delayed hangover which would kick in when he had completed his day’s work.

Waterhouse famously loathed bureaucracy and described himself as a ‘romantic liberal’ although he had written speeches for Labour politicians including Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson.

Although he worked for newspapers not generally associated with the best use of the English Language, he was a fanatic about correct grammar and spelling and founded the Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe, attacking poor punctuation on shopkeepers’ and market stall signs. Oh that he was still with us to go round Havant market on a Tuesday with a large horsewhip!  He was reputedly contemptuous of modern technology, and typed much of his life’s work on an old Adler manual typewriter – no record exists of what he thought about blogging as an ‘art’.

In 1986 he moved, surprisingly from the very left-wing Mirror to the Daily Mail. This was said to have been caused by the tyranny of Robert Maxwell whose insistence that Waterhouse wrote material with which he fundamentally disagreed brought about a mutiny and abrupt departure.

He wrote over 40 books, both fiction ( including Soho, Jubb,  Unsweet Charity and Collected Letters of a Nobody) and entertaining non-fiction such as ‘The Theory and Practice of Lunch’ and ‘Sharon and Tracy’, extracts from his Daily Mail humour. He is also well known for the stage play ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’ and a host of other plays.

Keith Waterhouse received recognition for his work in the shape of 3 awards as Columnist of the Year, he was elected to a Fellowship of the Roya l Society of Literature and was appointed a CBE in 1991.

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