Cruelly funny, cynical, erudite, dry & succinct, Beryl Bainbridge has succumbed to cancer at the age of 75. I’ll always remember reading (and laughing in shock at) ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ in Greenwich Park one sunny day. After that, I read everything she wrote. Although she followed a long line of Northern comic writers, she was differentiated from them by her often painful depiction of her characters’ flaws. Black comedy was always at the edges of her often tragic stories.
One of the grandes dames of the UK’s literary scene, Bainbridge was a prolific writer whose short, dark comic novels landed her five shortlistings for the Man Booker prize (and the label of perennial Booker bridesmaid – it’s outrageous and shameful that she never won), made her a two-time winner of the Whitbread award and saw her awarded a DBE in 2000.
“She was a wonderful writer in the tradition of British petit guignol that included Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark: coolly stylish, meticulous, beady-eyed and horribly funny. I would have wished her more injury time, but her record stands,” said author John Banville. “I met [her] on a couple of occasions and was much taken with her manner of stark lugubriousness tempered with high and subversive irony – just like her books.”
She was also a bit of a looker in her time. Many remember her bleakly witty novels, but few recall that she was also in Coronation Street (see below). Not sure what Ken Barlow’s doing with that moustache, though.