I’m sorry that Keith Waterhouse has died. He was a notable journalist, and achieved success as a playwright, television writer and film screenplay writer. But for me, his finest work was Billy Liar, a novel I read when I was about the same age as Billy, and which I thought was absolutely wonderful. I thought I’d never read anything that seemed to have so much wit combined with poignancy. The book was filmed with Julie Christie, as well as Tom Courtenay, and as I was a great Julie Christie fan, that served to cement in my mind the idea that Billy Liar was a masterpiece.
I enjoyed Waterhouse’s other early novels, There is a Happy Land and Jubb, but after a brilliant start, Office Life rather disappointed me. So did his belated sequel to Billy Liar. Billy Liar on the Moon isn’t a bad book by any means, but somehow it lacks the zest of the early novel, and my feeling was that Waterhouse ran out of steam as a novelist after a brilliant start. In his later years at least he seemed more at home with the sprint of the regular newspaper column than with the marathon effort of a novel.
My mum loved his memoir, City Lights, especially because it turned out that he’d attended a school in Yorkshire where she’d taught. Whether she actually taught him, she couldn’t recall, but if she did, it might explain his fanatical enthusiasm for accurate punctuation. She wrote to him some years ago, but no answer came.
Keith Waterhouse didn’t get into crime writing, and I don’t’ know whether he was a big fan of the genre. But he did revive for television in the 80s Charters and Caldecott, those cricket-loving characters who first appeared in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. The pair were, as I recall, frustrated in their efforts to watch a Test Match at Old Trafford by a complete wash-out. Just like me, earlier this week, when the 20Twenty match in Manchester was abandoned without a ball bowled.