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Sharpe, Tom

lecturer set south novels

(British, 1928– )

Tom Sharpe studied at Cambridge University and did National Service with the Marines, later emigrating to South Africa, where he was employed as a social worker and teacher before setting up his own photographic studio. He was deported in 1961, and took up a post as a lecturer in history on his return to Britain. Early novels like Riotous Assembly (1971) were set in South Africa, and satirize the sexual, racial, and political assumptions of the apartheid regime. This satirical bent was later turned onto the traditional English establishment and its institutions. Porterhouse Blue (1974) is set in a fossilized Oxbridge college where the fellows eat roast swan and the students learn about sex from their cleaners ('bedders'). Blott on the Landscape (1975) describes the struggle between developers, aristocrats, and environmentalists surrounding a road-building proposal that threatens a mediocre country house. Sharpe's novels typically combine sexual embarrassment, comic violence, and grotesque, larger-than-life characters, and they quickly took their place among the most popular satires of the 1970s. Wilt (1976), the story of a timid provincial college lecturer whose attempts to discard an inflatable sex-toy lead to his arrest for murder, generated a successful film. Its sequel, The Wilt Alternative (1979), embroils the hapless lecturer with terrorists.

J. P. Donleavy, Howard Jacobson  WB

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