Comic novelist Tom Sharpe dies at 85

Mr. Sharpe’s comic novels drew on his experiences working in South Africa and on his time as a college lecturer. Julian martin/European Pressphoto Agency/file 2009

LONDON — Tom Sharpe was aptly named, a writer who turned a razor-edged eye for absurdity on everything from the racism of apartheid to the squabbles of academia.

The British writer behind a string of comic novels including the campus classic ‘‘Porterhouse Blue’’ has died at 85.

Mr. Sharpe’s Spanish publisher, Anagrama, said he died Thursday in Llafranc, the Catalan town where he lived. His physician, Dr. Montserrat Verdaguer, said the cause was complications from diabetes.

Mr. Sharpe’s first novel, the South Africa-set ‘‘Riotous Assembly,’’ was published in 1971. He became one of Britain’s most popular comic novelists with books that combined satire and farce, including ‘‘Blott on the Landscape,’’ the ‘‘Wilt’’ series about a long-suffering college lecturer, and ‘‘Porterhouse Blue,’’ set in a fictitious Cambridge University college.


Born in London, Mr. Sharpe studied at Lancing College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, before serving in the Royal Marines after World War II.

Some of his skeptical outlook may have stemmed from early disillusionment with the ideals of his father, a Unitarian minister and admirer of Adolf Hitler. Mr. Sharpe later told a BBC interviewer that when he found out about Nazi atrocities as a teenager, ‘‘my mind was blown by the horror of what had been happening.’’

He sharpened his satirical ax as a young man working as a teacher and social worker in South Africa. He was deported in 1961 after he wrote a play critical of apartheid.

His comic novels drew on his own experiences in South Africa; in Cambridge, where he studied; and on his time working as a college lecturer.

‘‘Blott on the Landscape’’ and ‘‘Porterhouse Blue’’ were made into television series.

Mr. Sharpe moved from England to Spain in the early 1990s, where he became a local celebrity, despite his steadfast refusal to learn Spanish.

“I don’t want to learn the language. I don’t want to hear what the price of meat is.’’

Yet Britain did not appeal to him.

‘‘It is so depressing,’’ he said. ‘‘I can’t bear it. There is no such thing as the English gentleman any more. Money rules.’’


Mr. Sharpe’s widow, Nancy Looper Sharpe, said she would remember her late husband for his sense of humor, his sense of morality and his love of travel.


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