Obituary: Eric Malpass

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Eric Malpass was a rare creature - a highly successful English novelist who was virtually unknown in England. His reputation and his success were made almost entirely in Europe - in particular in Germany, where he is a household name. More paradoxical still, the setting of his books was always England; often nostalgic recreations of family life in an idealised English countryside, written with a wit and warmth that stopped just short of sentimentality.

Malpass worked for Barclays Bank for 39 years, until in his mid-fifties he took the risk of leaving to try and earn a living as a full-time writer. While at the bank he had written short stories for the BBC, and for a range of magazines such as the now defunct Argosy; in 1955 he won the Observer Short Story Competition. His first novel, Beefy Jones, published in 1957, won the Palma d'Oro in Italy for the best humorous novel of the year.

Nine years later, after resigning from the bank, his second novel, Morning's At Seven, recently published in England to modest success, was taken by Rowohlt in Germany. The publishers were as astonished as the author when Morgens um Sieben ist die Welt noch in Ordnung (Rowohlt added the following phrase of Browning's poem) immediately went to the top of the bestseller list of Der Spiegel, on which it remained for the next three years.

The German reading public took Gaylord, the seven-year-old boy at the novel's centre, to their hearts, and over the next two decades, Malpass found himself writing five more books about him, as well as a trilogy of novels about Shakespeare and five other books including a novel based on the life of Thomas Cranmer, whom he admired as a flawed man who finally found the strength to stand by his principles.

Morning's At Seven has now been published in more than 60 editions in 15 languages; it has been filmed in German (the theme tune, commissioned from James Last, became the BBC's signature tune for ice-dancing), serialised on French television, and broadcast across Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Others of his books were also filmed in Germany (in one case starring Peter Hall).

Eric Malpass lived close to his roots in the Midlands for all but the last few years of his life. He was President of the Nottingham Writers' Club and the Derby Writers' Guild for over 40 years. He was gentle, unassuming, and much loved by all who had dealings with him. He leaves a widow, Muriel and a son, Michael.

Eric Lawson Malpass, banker and novelist: born Derby 14 November 1910; married 1936 (one son); died Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire 16 October 1996.

Comments