I was sorry to read yesterday that Tom Sharpe had died (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/06/tom-sharpe-dies ).
In recent years – have to admit – the old spark had gone but in the 1980’s Sharpe was my favourite when you needed to read something intelligent and funny but not ‘worthy’. In particular, I loved the ‘Wilt’ series for personal reasons.
This is because between 1974 and 1976 I was incarcerated at a Cambridgeshire college, so like the ‘Fenland College’ where Wilt taught ‘Meat 1’ and other unwilling students that for years I racked my brains trying to work out which of my former tutors was writing under the pen-name Tom Sharpe.
Turns out, none of them. There were two such colleges in the county and Sharpe was at the other one. Incidentally though, he did trade stories with some of my tutors and these provided major characters and storylines for the Wilt books, as too obvious connections to his own former workplace might have got him sued… or just lynched.
Another sadly deceased comic writer, the music hack Steven Wells, had a great story about the time NME sent him to interview Sharpe and found he was all he had hoped for and much more. The interview was set for mid-morning, at Sharpe’s home, and on arriving Swells was immediately offered a stiff whiskey to calm his nerves, and then another…..
Things got so out of hand that, on consulting his notes on the train back, Swells could no longer remember if Sharpe had actually said some of the outrageous stuff he’d jotted down or if he’d imagined it. As young Mr Wells was then hanging on to employment by his fingernails (having upset far too many sensitive indie music bods, windbag ‘socialist intellectuals’ and showbiz luvvies) he could not risk more controversy so timidly rang Tom Sharpe to check. Sharpe not only confirmed his comments, but reminded Swells of ones he’d missed and added some truly OTT new ones just for the hell of it. The subsequent story offended everyone Swells could not in his wildest dreams, and as all the offence was caused by Britain’s biggest selling living author nobody lower down the gravy train dared complain.
Great writer, great attitude and, like Swells, he will be sorely missed.