Obituary: Martin Shuttleworth

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IT IS said that writers of exiguous output - E.M. Forster and Bruce Chatwin the names most often quoted - enjoy reputations in excess of their worth. If so, Martin Shuttleworth should be a writer of inordinate fame, for in a long career of devoted authorship he completed and published very little.

The maverick son of a soldier (General Sir Digby Shuttleworth of the Indian Army), Shuttleworth went predictably to Wellington and more typically to King's College, Cambridge, where he read English. Among contemporary friends there he numbered Simon Raven and Mark Boxer.

In 1957 his appointment as literary editor of the weekly Time & Tide convinced him early that office life was not for him, and he was at once more at home writing verse plays for David Thomson at the BBC Third Programme. Leaving London for good in 1960, winning a prize fellowship in Bristol University's drama department, Shuttleworth wrote a play, Goat Song, for the Bristol Old Vic and formed a film company that lived long enough to produce a pair of commendable documentaries.

For the next two decades, writing all the time, he continued to haunt the provinces, first as head of Liberal Studies at the Leicester College of Art and Design (from 1967), then at the Portsmouth Polytechnic (from 1971), where running the Fine Art department allowed him again to make films, and finally to Farnham (from 1979), where he was both tutor and librarian at the West Surrey College of Art and Design.

Not least of his gifts as a teacher and man was the charm and fluency of his running commentary on life, both anecdotal and exploratory, which he delivered with total openness, passion and merriment. His talk ran rings round life's ordinary confusions. He was a master of the digression so engaging that bringing him back to the point seemed ill-mannered. In a witty way he also remained an undergraduate subversive, a rebel with too many causes to cope with.

His retreat to his adored Spain in 1988 was an advance, a final act of self-liberation from routine. Earlier, in 1982, for Sue Bradbury at the Folio Society, "this big untidy vagabond of a man" (as she describes him) translated "superbly well" from the Spanish Diego Hurtado de Mendoza's The War in Granada. He threw himself into 16th-century Andalusian wars with such longing to illuminate the subject from within that his introduction almost rivalled the book in length. His inability to cut forced Folio to "induce the birth" by taking the typescript into their own hands.

So with Shuttleworth's voluminous fiction. Rumours were always circulating of vast novels under way. A mountainous thriller was completed, apart from finishing touches. His perfectionism partook of neurosis; he balked at completing a book for fear of betraying its original design. Lately he wrote most of a novel, Bonzo, about a psychiatrist with a skeleton not only in his cupboard but actually in his consulting room, the bones of a German aristocrat labelled in Spanish, which Shuttleworth managed to conjure into an effortless metaphor. The book will surely surface.

His marriage in 1953 to Diana Moorsom was of the closest. To their children, Benedict, Emma, Lucy and Jason, their parents offered the lure of liberty, the patience of care and the benefit of the doubt.

Martin Shuttleworth was the most open-air man of his literary generation, careless of his career, never happier than when walking in the high Pyrenees, delighted to get back to his desk provided he had no deadlines. His most recent enterprise, which he insisted on calling a potboiler, was Just in Case, a bilingual guide to the language of illness, useful equally to doctor and patient, when sick in Spain or Britain. He had just sold the English rights. His last work looks doomed to success.

Martin Digby George Shuttleworth, writer and teacher: born Nevern, Pembrokeshire 28 August 1929; married 1953 Diana Moorsom (two sons, two daughters); died London 19 April 1999.