By Stanley Reynolds
Tom Sharpe, who has died aged 85, was in the great tradition of English comic novelists and his bawdy style and vulgar approach were said to have made bad taste into an art form – like “PG Wodehouse on acid”, in the words of one critic. Sharpe did not start writing comic novels until 1971, when he was 43, but once he got going he gained a large readership. He was a huge bestseller whose hardback editions sold like most authors only sell in paperback.
Wilt (1976) introduced perhaps his most popular character: Henry Wilt, a mild-mannered teacher of literature at the fictional Fenland College of Arts and Technology, who gets involved in a murder investigation. Sharpe claimed that the account of teaching day-release apprentice butchers and tradesmen in classes timetabled as “Meat One” and “Plasterers Two” was based on his own experiences as a lecturer at the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology.
Henry Wilt has a plain common sense that gives a touch of ordinary, everyday reality to the novel and its sequels – The Wilt Alternative (1979), Wilt on High (1984), Wilt in Nowhere (2004) and The Wilt Inheritance (2010) – which is often lacking in Sharpe’s wilder farcical flights such as The Throwback (1978) and Ancestral Vices (1980). A film of Wilt, starring Griff Rhys Jones in 1989, brought Sharpe an even wider audience, as did the TV adaptations of his novels Blott on the Landscape (starring David Suchet in 1985) and Porterhouse Blue (starring Ian Richardson and David Jason in 1987).
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