Sunday 6 September 2009

Keith Waterhouse

The coverage of the death, the other day, of Keith Waterhouse has been astonishing, with long, gushing obits and features appearing everywhere - here's one of the briefer, more measured ones - and the news of his death high up on the broadcast media's agenda too. It's hard to think of another living writer who would have such a send-off (Jeff always excepted hem hem) - but then, as all the obits point out, Waterhouse was the last of his kind. Certainly such a career would be wellnigh impossible now, with the West End theatre largely given over to pop-based musicals, established novelists driven into self-publishing and making no money, the newsprint media facing an uncertain future, and the kind of whimsical, curmudgeonly, humorously indignant column he wrote now seeming like a survivor from another age. Billy Liar I enjoyed hugely as a teenager - to the point of repeating chunks of it in dialogue with a friend - but I don't suppose I'll ever revisit it. Of the later novels, I recall a strange, dark affair called Jubb, about some kind of sexual fetishist (of obvious appeal to my dirty teenage mind); a clever one called Office Life which minutely describes the work of a company whose business, it turns out, is simply keeping itself working - it produces nothing and does nothing beyond its own circular routines (prophetic?); and one called Thinks, which takes place entirely in the mind of an extremely angry man. For all his famous professionalism, Waterhouse's column was never the same after he left the Mirror. On the plus side, Auberon Waugh thought highly of him - and, when Waterhouse was asked which was the most important and inspiring book in his life, he replied The Card by Alan Bennett. This was about as determinedly unfashionable an answer as could be given, but, if you think about it, Waterhouse was about as near as we've had in recent decades to an Arnold Bennett - popular, prolific, high-living, professional, commonsensical - and with a reputation destined to nosedive after death. Still, it's been good to see a writer - any writer (Jeff always excepted) - attract such adulation, such affection, and so many apparently heartfelt tributes.


  1. You never had a dirty teenage mind. I won't believe it and I don't believe it.

  2. Oh I did Uncle Dick, believe me...