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Beryl Bainbridge

August 14, 2011

English novelist, died 2 July 2010 aged 77 or 78. 

When she caught her husband having an affair, Beryl Bainbridge divorced him and started writing. But no-one wanted to publish her, and they still got on, so she let him back. Second time round she made him live in the basement and pay rent, but then she misbehaved, and he moved out for good. Sometime later his mother turned up at the door and tried to shoot her. Her life remained famously chaotic – single mother of three children, she never remarried, but had loads of affairs, mainly with hopeless married men, until she eventually “gave up sex at 60”. It all went in the novels.

Born in Liverpool in 1933 or 4, (sources disagree but it won’t affect her Deadpool points) to a bankrupt salesman and resentful mother, life was grim for the child, but great for the novelist. A short career as an actress – in the 1960s she had a minor role in the TV soap Coronation Street, and factory jobs – most famously in a bottling plant, provided more material for the black comedies. Once she got going, they came almost annually – The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), Sweet William (1975), A Quiet Life (1976), An Awfully Big Adventure (1989).

Later she turned to fictionalised historical events Young Adolf (1978) about Hitler’s trip to Liverpool, Watson’s Apology (1984) about a vicar who murdered his wife, The Birthday Boys (1991) about Scott of the Antarctic, According to Queeney (2001) about Dr Johnson, Every Man for Himself (1996) about the Titanic, and Master Georgie (1998) about the Crimean War. At her death, she was writing The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress, about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Although at least four novels were made into films – Hugh Grant starred in An Awfully Big Adventure – and she was shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, she never won. All the more reason to read her. Missing out on fancy literary prizes is usually a good sign, and her novels were short, sad, dirty and funny. She smoked and drank heavily, and breast cancer eventually got her. But at least today, let’s do what she would have done – stick up two fingers to the health police, light a fag, open a novel, and raise a glass. If you’re under 60, and can find a willing partner, have a shag in her memory too.

Beryl Bainbridge wrote about sex
And death and destruction,
But still made us laugh
About Dr Johnson

She saw the funny side
Of murder and war.
She once dodged a bullet
From her mother-in-law

She loved a lot of men
And wrote about Sweet William
But she ended up single
And gave up fornication.

Some people just thought
She did a bit of acting
In Coronation Street,
And wrote about bottling.

So, although her books were short,
And funny and wise,
Perhaps that’s why
They never gave her the prize

Jim Thornton, Nottingham. 3 July 2010

Reprinted from AO Deadpool

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