It was with great regret that I learned yesterday of the death of Keith Waterhouse, who died at the age of 80. I first became aware of his writings during my teenage years. Our family paper in those days was the Daily Mirror, mainly because my father was a Labour Party supporter. It was reading his articles that first inspired me to want to write and I have been writing bits of rubbish ever since. Keith Waterhouse was one of Britain's funniest and wittiest writers, as well as being one of the most prolific, with more than 60 books, plays and television scripts to his credit. His newspaper column spanned more than 50 years, starting at the Daily Mirror before switching to the daily Mail in 1986.
He was born in a back-to-back house in Hunslet, Leeds, in 1929, the youngest of five children. His father, who sold fruit and vegetables died when he was only four, leaving the family in his own words "ridiculously, almost unbelievably, poor". From an early age he wanted to write and work in newspaper's.
After leaving school at 15, his first job was with a combined estate agent and undertaker, which was later to provide the setting for his highly successful novel 'Billy Liar'. After serving his National Service in the RAF he joined the Yorkshire Evening Post, as the Pennines walking correspondent. His obvious talents quickly took him to Leeds, then the features department of the Daily Mirror in Fleet Street. He became a correspondent in America, the Soviet Union and Cyprus. He also drafted speeches for Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson, two Labour Party leaders.
As a young man Waterhouse thrived on Fleet Street life. His Who's Who entry listed 'lunch' as his sole recreational activity. In those early days he was also writing novels, plays and scripts, some with his friend Willis Hall. Billy Liar appeared in 1959 followed by his first screenplay Whistle Down The Wind, in 1961.
His work brought him a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature and he won the Columnist of the Year award three times, in 1970, 1973 and 1978. He was appointed a CBE in 1991.