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Beryl Bainbridge RIP: Foolish To Give Up Sex At 60

by | 2nd, July 2010

IT’S soooo typical of novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge to die on a Friday.

If you’d asked me before she passed away (in the early hours of this morning) which day of the week was she likely to light up her last ever fag, I’d have said a Friday. She was a funny awkward thing, peculiar like her face, forever dropping bricks. So thank you Beryl for adding to the flight-or-Friday burden and annoying every obit ed in the land (do see my gorgeous piece in the current issue of Eulogy on obituarists) – that’s the weekend packages scrapped!

I got to know Beryl through my late friend, the travel writer Robert Tewdwr Moss – whose two killers may be released this year: I’ll say more about this sometime else. When I features edited Woman’s Journal many years ago, I sent him to profile the comic novelist and the result was arch, precise and hysterical. Two very baroque personalities bonded in a juiceless mutual admiration society – both quite skeletally thin by the way; and I always knew when he’d been to see Beryl for he’d return matted in cat fur: like a good many lady novelists (and Robert), Beryl loved a pussy or two, and saw no reason to clean up after the narcissistic, me-me-moi mogs. I’d sneeze a lot and become irritable.

Beryl had an obsession with teeth; I’m thinking of this as I write because I have just returned from my dental hygienist – she would have loved gazing into my gaping (fresh) mouth, and she certainly adored visiting the Army Dental Museum at Aldershot, and would revel in toothy detail, just as Madame Arcati can deconstruct a stranger’s cock. The literary mind tends to focus on singularities, you see; but in a blog one cannot delve too deeply. Just surf.

Friends of Bainbridge were never more appalled than when the London Evening Standard dumped her without ceremony. For years she wrote a wonderful whimsical column – a touch AN Wilson-ish, but without the bitchiness (he’s such a straight queen) – then suddenly and without notice, that was it. I believe the bye-bye was couriered. This may have been then editor Veronica Wadley’s doing, but she can always write in and threaten suit if I’m wrong.

To treat an institution like Bainbridge in this way was beyond belief, but she wasn’t bitter; and relished having earned a lot of money for some old newspaper tat. Her shrewd and funny novels weren’t up there with Katie Price’s (sales-wise) – most of her advances were only in the £2k range – but she made a handsome living from the films of the books – such as An Awfully Big Adventure and The Dressmaker.

Beryl was one of the UK’s literary grandes dames and probably the only one to have appeared in Coronation Street. 75 is no age to die these days: yes, she drank and yes she loved her ciggies. But, still. She did give up sex at 60 – that was foolish. There’s nothing like a good fuck to refresh a body in staggered, breathing putrescence. No, I won’t go over her novels, you can Google her and read the obits.

Lynn Barber tells a lovely tale about Beryl: “I noticed a misprint in her novel According to Queeney, egg yoke for egg yolk, and when I pointed it out, she said, ‘Which word’s wrong? Egg?’ Typical Beryl.”

Yes, typical Beryl. xx

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Authors Beryl Bainbridge (left) and Victoria Glendinning (right) at the British Library in London today (Tuesday) to help mark the thirtieth anniversary of The Booker Prize for Fiction with an evening of readings and debate. Authors Nicholas Moseley, Beryl Bainbridge, Kazuo Ishiguro, Roddy Doyle, Salman Rushdie and Victoria Glendinning were joined by members of the public for the unique literary event. Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA.



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