The Year in Review: Dame Beryl Bainbridge

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The Independent Online

For many years Beryl Bainbridge's work was edited at Duckworth by Anna Haycraft, better known as the writer Alice Thomas Ellis, whose regular Spectator column often featured her deeply eccentric, chain-smoking, hard-drinking mate, Beryl – though in fact, Bainbridge was always so thin that very little alcohol was required to make her very jolly.

Her novels fall into two categories. Before the 1990s she drew chiefly on what Michael Holroyd calls "her autobiographical capital", novels she said were written in order "to make sense of my upbringing... to discover what was going on in my family."

She became better known when she started writing "historical" novels, and in 1983 was the obvious choice to make a television series repeating JB Priestley's 1933 journey around England 50 years on. She also wrote and directed a highly praised BBC2 Arena documentary about Dr Johnson in 2001, by which time, laden with other honours and prizes, she had become Dame Beryl.

Following her 71st birthday in 2005, her grandson Charlie Russell made a biographical documentary titled Beryl's Last Year, because she was convinced that, like her parents and nine other relatives, she would die aged 71. She was wrong, and lived to 75.


Born 21 November 1934; died 1 July 2010.