The Blagger's Guide To...Beryl Bainbridge
Corrie bit-part, and, at last, a Booker-winner at last
Sunday 24 April 2011
*The Man Booker Best of Beryl Prize was awarded on Tuesday, posthumously correcting the "always the bridesmaid" cliché that attached itself to Bainbridge after she was shortlisted for the Booker five times, but never won.
The award, for her 1998 novel, Master Georgie, was accepted by her daughter and her grandson, whom Bainbridge took as her guest to one Booker dinner and instructed to "get drunk". They were joined by many of Bainbridge's friends. The playwright Ronald Harwood said: "She always referred to my plays as 'The Thingummy'." Her publisher, Richard Beswick, recalled how, at a swish V&A function, she walked up to Gilbert Scott's red telephone box, "opened the door very smartly, and lit up". And her agent, Andrew Hewson, claimed that the pair used to make close examinations of the TV cables on Booker night, "to determine which table they snaked to. Unfortunately, they never snaked towards her."
*Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in 1934, and was writing by the time she was 10. Aged 16, she was expelled from Merchant Taylors' School after a dirty limerick was found in her pocket. She studied drama, and began acting at the Liverpool Playhouse.
*In 1961, she had a cameo appearance in Coronation Street as an anti-nuclear protester. Her debut novel, Weekend with Claude, was published in 1967.
*Bainbridge published 17 novels, including the five that were shortlisted for the Booker: The Dressmaker (1973); The Bottle Factory Outing (1974); An Awfully Big Adventure (1989); Every Man for Himself (1996) and Master Georgie (1998).
*Bainbridge was a gossip columnist's best friend. She was great friends with Bernice Rubens, who won the second Booker Prize in 1970. The pair were so devoted to Brookside that they would ring each other to catch up whenever either missed an episode. When she was asked at the Royal Academy in 2002 what she and the Queen had just been talking about, Bainbridge replied: "That was the Queen? I thought it was Vera Lynn!" She gave up smoking in 2004 after developing claudication: "I had to," she complained, "otherwise I would lose a leg." Sadly, it caused crippling writer's block, which was her excuse for taking it up again not much later.
*After she died last year, aged 75, a number of her paintings were discovered, depicting scenes from her novels and one or two of her former lovers dressed as Napoleon.
*At the Best of Beryl party in Soho on Tuesday, "what Beryl would have made of this" was obviously a subtext. "Well, she'd have been very pissed orf, you see," confided one of her friends to the IoS, "because there is no whisky. Beryl and I went to a party at Hatchards [bookshop] once, where we spied a bottle of whisky and sidled over to it. We were told, 'Oh no, you mustn't drink that – it's for Princess Margaret!' But we managed to sneak it away. Suddenly, a tall figure loomed over our shoulders and said, 'May I join you?' It was John Major!"
*The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, the novel that Bainbridge was working on when she died, will be published at the end of May by Little, Brown . It is set in America at the time of Robert Kennedy's death, when a girl wearing a polka dot dress was seen in photographs of the scene. Shortly before she died, Bainbridge told her children that she had only 35 pages left to write, as well as how it would end.
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