Keith Waterhouse: Leeds author and playwright dies

ACCLAIMED novelist, playwright and former YEP reporter Keith Waterhouse has died at the age of 80.

The legendary newspaper columnist, who was born in Leeds, died "quietly in his sleep" at home in London.

From impoverished beginnings in Hunslet, Waterhouse rose to see his name in lights outside West End theatres.


After national service in the RAF, he achieved his ambition to be a reporter on the YEP, where he is still remembered for his "flaming red unruly hair rising up from his head".

He moved to the Daily Mirror in 1951, where he worked as a correspondant in America, Russia and Cyprus.

During a newspaper strike in 1956, he wrote his first novel, There Is A Happy Land, set on a Leeds housing estate.

In 1959 he leapt to fame with Billy Liar, the story of a daydreamer planning his escape from his job as an undertaker.

He famously left the first 10,000 words of the book in a taxi, which he later said was "the best thing that happened to me" because it was "pretentious twaddle".

In 1963, Billy Liar was turned into a film starring Tom Courtenay.

His twice-weekly column appeared in the Mirrorfor 16 years.

He left when Robert Maxwell took over, saying: "I am rather in favour of larger-than-life newspaper bosses, but he was a bit too large."

He also wrote the popular 1970s television series Budgie and Worzel Gummidge.

His 14th novel Soho, about a young Leeds boy searching for his girlfriend, was published in 2001, while he penned his memoir City Lights in 1994.

Other well-known plays included Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, written alongside Willis Hall and starring Peter O'Toole, both also Leeds lads.

While working together, Waterhouse and Hall – who died in 2005 - also scripted Whistle Down The Wind and A Kind Of Loving.

Ned Sherrin, who directed five of Waterhouse's 20 plays, said: "He has an instinctive stage craft. God knows where he picked it up."

In 1986, he moved to the Daily Mail, where he wrote lively newspaper columns at least twice a week until he was well into his 70s.

He often grumbled about modern life and in particular political correctness, and hankered after the days of his youth in Hunslet.

His early memories included having five paper rounds, selling firwood and running a window-cleaning round.

He divorced twice and had three children.

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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