The writer Beryl Bainbridge, whose work included The Dressmaker and The Bottle Factory Outing, died this week at the age of 75. Five times nominated for the Booker Prize and twice winner of the Whitbread Prize, she published 20 novels, with subjects as diverse as an imaginary Hitler living in her native Liverpool in his youth, and murderous schoolgirls. Born in Liverpool in 1934, she was raised in nearby Formby, with much of her earlier work rooted in her own experiences.
It seemed at first that she might become an actress, appearing as child in radio productions with Billie Whitelaw. Later she had a brief role in the TV soap opera, Coronation Street. Even at an early age, though, it was clear her real love was the written word. Her early work, with its characteristic black humour, drew heavily on her earlier experiences, which included a doomed relationship with a German prisoner of war. Later she turned to historical fiction, with novels set on the Titanic, in Dr Samuel Johnson's London and with Captain Scott's doomed Antarctic expedition, among others. She was also the author of several plays and was theatre critic for the magazine The Oldie.
Her marriage to Austin Davies, a scene painter, lasted three years and resulted in a son and a daughter. Another daughter was fathered by Alan Sharp, a Hollywood writer on whom she modelled Sweet William. In 2000, she was made a Dame of the British Empire. In later life she became convinced that she would die at the age of 71 like her father, mother and nine other relatives. Her life actually extended another four years. She died following a recurrence of cancer, while putting the finishing touches to what will be her final, posthumous novel. Born on November 21, 1934, she died yesterday.
* The National