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Keith (Spencer) Waterhouse Biography

Nationality: British. Born: Leeds, Yorkshire, 1929. Education: Osmondthorpe Council Schools, Leeds. Military Service: Served in the Royal Air Force. Career: Since 1950 freelance journalist and writer in Leeds and London; columnist, Daily Mirror, 1970-86, and Daily Mail since 1986, both London. Awards: (for journalism): Granada award, 1970, and special award, 1982; IPC award, 1970, 1973; British Press award, 1978; Evening Standard award, for play, 1991. Honorary Fellow, Leeds Polytechnic. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature. Member: Kingman Committee on Teaching of English Language, 1987-88. Agent: David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John Street, London W1; (theatrical) London Management Ltd., 235-241 Regent Street, London W1.



There Is a Happy Land. London, Joseph, 1957.

Billy Liar. London, Joseph, 1959; New York, Norton, 1960.

Jubb. London, Joseph, 1963; New York, Putnam, 1964.

The Bucket Shop. London, Joseph, 1968; as Everything Must Go, NewYork, Putnam, 1969.

Billy Liar on the Moon. London, Joseph, 1975; New York, Putnam, 1976.

Office Life. London, Joseph, 1978.

Maggie Muggins; or, Spring in Earl's Court. London, Joseph, 1981.

In the Mood. London, Joseph, 1983.

Thinks. London, Joseph, 1984.

Our Song. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.

Bimbo. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1990.

Unsweet Charity. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1992.

Good Grief. London, Sceptre, 1997.


Billy Liar, with Willis Hall, adaptation of the novel by Waterhouse (produced London, 1960; Los Angeles and New York, 1963). London, Joseph, 1960; New York, Norton, 1961.

Celebration: The Wedding and The Funeral, with Willis Hall (produced Nottingham and London, 1961). London, Joseph, 1961.

England, Our England, with Willis Hall, music by Dudley Moore (produced London, 1962). London, Evans, 1964.

Squat Betty, with Willis Hall (produced London, 1962; New York, 1964). Included in The Sponge Room, and Squat Betty, 1963.

The Sponge Room, with Willis Hall (produced Nottingham andLondon, 1962; New York, 1964). Included in The Sponge Room, and Squat Betty, 1963; in Modern Short Plays from Broadway and London, edited by Stanley Richards, New York, Random House, 1969.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, with Willis Hall (produced Bristol and London, 1962). London, Joseph, 1963.

The Sponge Room, and Squat Betty, with Willis Hall. London, Evans, 1963.

Come Laughing Home, with Willis Hall (as They Called the Bastard Stephen, produced Bristol, 1964; as Come Laughing Home, produced Wimbledon, 1965). London, Evans, 1965.

Say Who You Are, with Willis Hall (produced Guildford, Surrey, andLondon, 1965). London, Evans, 1966; as Help Stamp Out Marriage (produced New York, 1966), New York, French, 1966.

Joey, Joey, with Willis Hall, music by Ron Moody (producedManchester and London, 1966).

Whoops-a-Daisy, with Willis Hall (produced Nottingham, 1968).London, French, 1978.

Children's Day, with Willis Hall (produced Edinburgh and London, 1969). London, French, 1975.

Who's Who, with Willis Hall (produced Coventry, 1971; London, 1973). London, French, 1974.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, with Willis Hall, adaptation of a play byEduardo De Filippo (produced London, 1973; New York, 1974). London, Heinemann, 1974.

The Card, with Willis Hall, music and lyrics by Tony Hatch andJackie Trent, adaptation of the novel by Arnold Bennett (produced Bristol and London, 1973).

Filumena, with Willis Hall, adaptation of a play by Eduardo DeFilippo (produced London, 1977; New York, 1980). London, Heinemann, 1978.

Worzel Gummidge (for children), with Willis Hall, music by DenisKing, adaptation of stories by Barbara Euphan Todd (produced Birmingham, 1980; London, 1981). London, French 1984.

Steafel Variations (songs and sketches), with Peter Tinniswood andDick Vosburgh (produced London, 1982).

Lost Empires, with Willis Hall, music by Denis King, adaptation of the novel by J.B. Priestley (produced Darlington, County Durham, 1985).

Mr. and Mrs. Nobody, adaptation of The Diary of a Nobody byGeorge and Weedon Grossmith (produced London, 1986).

Budgie, with Willis Hall, music by Mort Shuman, lyrics by Don Black (produced London, 1988).

Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (produced Brighton and London, 1989).London and New York, French, 1991.

Bookends, adaptation of The Marsh Marlowe Letters by Craig Brown (produced London, 1990).

Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, with Mr. and Mrs. Nobody and Bookends. London, Penguin, 1992.

Our Song, adaptation of his own novel. London, French, 1993.

Screenplays, with Willis Hall:

Whistle Down the Wind, 1961; The Valiant, 1962; A Kind of Loving, 1963; Billy Liar, 1963; West Eleven, 1963; Man in the Middle, 1963; Pretty Polly (A Matter of Innocence), 1967; Lock Up Your Daughters, 1969.

Radio Plays:

The Town That Wouldn't Vote, 1951; There Is a Happy Land, 1962; The Woolen Bank Forgeries, 1964; The Last Phone-In, 1976; The Big Broadcast of 1922, 1979.

Television Plays:

The Warmonger, 1970; The Upchat Line series, 1977; The Upchat Connection series, 1978; Charlie Muffin, from novels by Brian Freemantle, 1979; West End Tales series, 1981; The Happy Apple series, from play by Jack Pulman, 1983; This Office Life, from his own novel, 1984; Charters and Caldicott, 1985; The Great Paper Chase, from the book Slip Up by Anthony Delaro, 1988; Andy Capp series, 1988; with Willis Hall—Happy Moorings, 1963; How Many Angels, 1964; Inside George Webley series, 1968; Queenie's Castle series, 1970; Budgie series, 1971-72; The Upper Crusts series, 1973; Three's Company series, 1973; By Endeavour Alone, 1973; Briefer Encounter, 1977; Public Lives, 1979; Worzel Gummidge series, from stories by Barbara Euphan Todd, 1979.


The Café Royal: Ninety Years of Bohemia, with Guy Deghy. London, Hutchinson, 1955.

How to Avoid Matrimony: The Layman's Guide to the Laywoman, with Guy Deghy (as Herald Froy). London, Muller, 1957.

Britain's Voice Abroad, with Paul Cave. London, Daily MirrorNewspapers, 1957.

The Future of Television. London, Daily Mirror Newspapers, 1958.

How to Survive Matrimony, with Guy Deghy (as Herald Froy).London, Muller, 1958.

The Joneses: How to Keep Up with Them, with Guy Deghy (as LeeGibb). London, Muller, 1959.

Can This Be Love?, with Guy Deghy (as Herald Froy). London, Muller, 1960.

Maybe You're Just Inferior: Head-Shrinking for Fun and Profit, withGuy Deghy (as Herald Froy). London, Muller, 1961.

The Higher Jones, with Guy Deghy (as Lee Gibb). London, Muller, 1961.

O Mistress Mine: or, How to Go Roaming, with Guy Deghy (asHerald Froy). London, Barker, 1962.

The Passing of the Third-Floor Buck (Punch sketches). London, Joseph, 1974.

Mondays, Thursdays (Daily Mirror columns). London, Joseph, 1976.

Rhubard, Rhubard, and Other Noises (Daily Mirror columns).London, Joseph, 1979.

The Television Adventures [and More Television Adventures ] of Worzel Gummidge (for children), with Willis Hall. London, Penguin, 2 vols., 1979; complete edition, as Worzel Gummidge's Television Adventures, London, Kestrel, 1981.

Worzel Gummidge at the Fair (for children), with Willis Hall. London, Penguin, 1980.

Worzel Gummidge Goes to the Seaside (for children), with WillisHall. London, Penguin, 1980.

The Trials of Worzel Gummidge (for children), with Willis Hall. London, Penguin, 1980.

Worzel's Birthday (for children), with Willis Hall. London, Penguin, 1981.

New Television Adventures of Worzel Gummidge and Aunt Sally (for children), with Willis Hall. London, Sparrow, 1981.

Daily Mirror Style. London, Mirror Books, 1981; revised, edition asWaterhouse on Newspaper Style, London, Viking, 1989.

Fanny Peculiar (Punch columns). London, Joseph, 1983.

Mrs. Pooter's Diary. London, Joseph, 1983.

The Irish Adventures of Worzel Gummidge (for children), with WillisHall. London, Severn House, 1984.

Waterhouse at Large (journalism). London, Joseph, 1985.

The Collected Letters of a Nobody (Including Mr. Pooter's Advice to His Son). London, Joseph, 1986.

The Theory and Practice of Lunch. London, Joseph, 1986.

Worzel Gummidge Down Under (for children), with Willis Hall. London, Collins, 1987.

The Theory and Practice of Travel. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1989.

English Our English (and How to Sing It). London, Viking, 1991.

Sharon & Tracy & the Rest: The Best of Keith Waterhouse in the Daily Mail. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1992.

City Lights: A Street Life. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1994.

Streets Ahead: Life After City Lights. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1995.

Editor, with Willis Hall, Writers' Theatre. London, Heinemann, 1967.

* * *

Keith Waterhouse's fiction is distinguished by a sharp comic sense, a facility that works on closely polished verbal, imagistic, and logical incongruities. For example, in the well-known Billy Liar, a character who is one of the two owners of the funeral establishment where Billy works, a man who keeps a copy of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One on his desk in order to get new ideas and who looks forward to the day when all coffins will be made of fiberglass, is introduced: "He was, for a start, only about twenty-five years old, although grown old with quick experience, like forced rhubarb," In Billy Liar on the Moon, a sequel to Billy Liar that both takes place and was written about fifteen years after the original, and which moves Billy from his Yorkshire locale of the late 1950s to a carefully designed community of shopping malls, motels, and perplexing oneway streets that lead only to motorways, a new housing estate is a "suburb of the moon" with "a Legoland of crescents and culs-de-sac with green Lego roofs and red Lego chimney stacks." In The Bucket Shop Waterhouse depicts the bumbling, self-deceptive owner of a tatty antique shop, unsuccessful alike in his business, his adulteries, and his efforts to make his wife and his nine-year-old daughter, Melisande, fit his trendy definitions of "interesting" people. After a long passage developing Melisande's fantasies about herself, Waterhouse adds, "She had William's gift for candid self-assessment." That kind of reductive comment, like the discordant contemporary images, the play with clichés, and the exploitation of grammatical incongruities, suggest comparisons with the comic prose of Evelyn Waugh.

Waterhouse builds his verbal texture on plots that often begin with a kind of adolescent humor. Billy, in Billy Liar, invents highly improbable and inconsistent stories, weaving a net of public and fantastic lies that is bound to be discovered by parents, bosses, and the three girlfriends to whom he is simultaneously engaged. He is full of elaborate compulsions: if he can suck a mint without breaking it or if he walks in certain complex patterns he feels he will escape the consequences of his stories. He is also a powerful leader in his fantasy land of Ambrosia. The point of view of the young boy in Waterhouse's first novel, There Is a Happy Land, is even more childlike. The boy plays at being blind, drunk, or maimed, mimics all his elders and delights in calling out cheeky statements that annoy or embarrass adults. Neither child nor adolescent, the central character in Jubb, a rent-collector and youth-club leader in a planned "New Town," is also full of grandiose schemes that others always see through and mimics others' accepted pieties. All these characters, inventive, iconoclastic, and living almost wholly within their disordered imaginations, assault an adult world that pretends it's stable.

Underneath the texture of mimicry and iconoclasm, Waterhouse sometimes gradually shows a world far more sinister than the one suggested by the escapades of adolescent humor. As There is a Happy Land develops, the tone shifts and the boy recognizes the sexuality, perversion, evil, and violence (including the murder of a young girl) in the abandoned quarries and behind the picture-windows of the lower-middle-class housing estate. The character of Jubb himself is gradually revealed as psychotic. Behind his fantasies and comic compulsions is the sexual impotence that has led him to become a peeping Tom, a pyromaniac, and a murderer. In The Bucket Shop William's incompetent management of money and women, as well as his incapacity to deal with the consequences of his fantasies, leads to the suicide of a dependent actress. Sometimes, as the humor fades from Waterhouse's novels, it leaves a melodramatic revelation of perverse and horrible humanity.

Later novels, generally set in the anonymous world of London, focus satire or an understated pathos on more restricted treatments of contemporary life. Office Life centers on a worker made redundant who is absorbed into the modern corporation where everyone is sustained in a network of gossip, affairs, and shuffling papers, and nothing is produced or accomplished. Maggie Muggins: or, Spring in Earl's Court chronicles a day in the life of Maggie, born Margaret Moon, a promiscuous and alcoholic drifter in London for the past 10 years in revolt from a square, stable Doncaster family. During the day, she learns of a close friend's suicide, her father's decision to marry and start a new family, and the fact that the father of her aborted baby could have married her, yet the clever prose, satirizing the social services and any pretense to reform, finally and tersely establishes her ratchety integrity and capacity to survive. Thinks is more experimental technically. Concentrating, as a deliberate fictional device, on the anxieties and fantasies in the mind of the central character, without reporting what he says, the novel charts the pressures on the last, long day of Edgar Bapty's life. Through train journeys, a visit to his doctor, a job interview he only dimly realizes he has fumbled, thoughts of his three former wives, numerous heavy meals, a visit to a prostitute, and several recognition's of his own sexual incapacity, Bapty's thoughts and fears build to "a magnificent Hallelujah chorus of sustained and bellowing rage" before his fatal heart attack. The compressed focus and the sharp writing give these novels immediacy and vitality.

The two novels concerning Billy Liar are lighter than Waterhouse's other fiction, although the persona of Billy represents Waterhouse's only perspective that attempts to alter circumstance. Billy lies less to cover horror or perversion than "to relieve the monotony of living on the moon," where the moon is his arid contemporary civic and domestic life. Both novels, as satire, also ridicule the parochial: in Billy Liar the target is, equally, romanticizing an old, rugged Yorkshire tradition and the "new" world of coffee bars, record shops, and the winner of the Miss Stradhoughton contest who delivers "whole sentences ready-packed in disposable tinfoil wrapper"; in Billy Liar on the Moon the target is civic pride, all the contemporary designs and shapes applied to experience and undermined both by their implicit fatuity and old-fashioned corruption. In both novels, Billy, the comic, the spinner of fantasies, uses the vision of "London" as his potential escape from provincial dullness, ineptitude, and self-seeking.

That any "real London" is no answer for Waterhouse is clear from other novels such as The Bucket Shop, Office Life, and Maggie Muggins. Yet the point in both books about Billy Liar is that he cannot, more than momentarily in the second book, manage the break to London, cannot do more than mimic, scoff, and invent within the limited world he is dependent on. Both as satire and as a potential means of revealing some deeply thought or felt version of experience, Waterhouse's comedy is thin, a covering for the sense of horror in experience in Jubb or Thinks, in which the latent pain seems unmanageable and unchangeable. Continuing themes explored in the preceding works, Our Song depicts a failed love affair between a married adman and a much younger girl in his office. The office also provides a setting of sorts for Unsweet Charity, a satire on the world of public relations and fundraising campaigns.

All the novels seem staged (and Waterhouse, in conjunction with Willis Hall, has written a number of plays characterized by sharply witty dialogue and clever invention). As Billy himself says, in Billy Liar on the Moon, he is still only a "juvenile lead" in a "comedy," not the central character in a "tragedy" he imagines, not equipped for any part in a drama of "real life." At the end of the novel, he returns to Ambrosia. Whatever the incapacities of his characters to alter or transcend experience, Waterhouse is invariably an excellent mimic, often cogent and terse, and has created a comic prose and a sense of the involuted logic of systematic fantasy that are strikingly effective and enjoyable.

—James Gindin

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