Obituary: Sylvia Clayton

Sylvia Dye, novelist and journalist: born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire 20 January 1926; married 1950 Tom Clayton (two sons); died Batcombe, Somerset 15 June 1994.

SYLVIA CLAYTON was the author of five wonderfully witty novels that were compared, by Anthony Burgess and others, to Evelyn Waugh's. She won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1975 for Friends and Romans, a satire on Britain in the Macmillan era.

The Guardian award came as a surprise to those who only knew Clayton as the Daily Telegraph's television critic. She had been hired by that paper in 1966 to review television drama and it was an amusing sight to see the tall, lady-like Clayton, a product of Pate's Grammar School in Cheltenham and Oxford, making her way first thing in the morning to a BBC preview theatre down a seedy Soho alley near to a sex shop.

She was a woman of much charm and wit and in 1982 she wrote a television play, The Preview, in which she immortalised the curious little world of odd men and women who were farmed out by their newspapers to review the world's most lively new art form. There was a memorable scene when a critic arrived with her arms loaded with shopping. This was a portrait of Clayton's good friend Nancy Banks Smith, of the Guardian.

Born in Cheltenham in 1926, Sylvia Dye was the daughter of a headmaster, Arthur Dye, who was also three times mayor of Cheltenham. She went on to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and read modern languages. When she worked for the British Council in Helsinki she learnt both Finnish and Swedish, and when her husband, Tom Clayton, an Express journalist, whom she married in 1950, was stationed in the Middle East, she learnt Arabic. She was also musical and had hoped to make a career of it but went into journalism, first at the Derby Evening Telegraph and then the Birmingham Gazette before coming to London where she worked on documentaries and current affairs for the BBC.

In 1961 she published her first novel, Crystal Gazers, about psychiatrists. Her other novels were The Peninsula (1964), Top C (1968) and Sabbatical (1973). In the early 1980s she bravely decided to give up television reviewing to concentrate on writing a novel. She moved with her husband from Kew to Batcombe, a quiet Somerset village near Shepton Mallet. But the novel failed to appear. She became instead a highly respected and very busy reviewer of books, writing for almost all the quality papers and magazines. She said she did not want to review novels because they might influence her own work, but she was so busy writing reviews that she did not have time for her own writing.

In Somerset she acquired the freelance's important talent of being good on the telephone when talking to literary editors. She would brighten their grey London lives with tales of country life where she played the piano for village shows. She wrote for Punch in the Eighties and at this time it was discovered that three Punch women, Clayton, Dilys Powell and Kay Dick, had in their youth dated Ian Fleming, Dashiell Hammett and George Orwell respectively, but while the irrepressible Dick would talk of Orwell's annoying habit of wanting to hold her hand in the street, Clayton and Powell were reluctant to write of these relationships.

Sylvia Clayton's reserve hid an amazingly varied talent. The slim and graceful lady in the Somerset village was at one and the same time providing jokes for Frankie Howerd, writing a monograph on the painter and photographer Edward Piper and translating Raisa Gorbachev's biography Raisa (1990). She had a happy life in the country until she was struck by cancer. She said her Anglican faith kept her in good stead. It is to be hoped that her novels will be rediscovered rather in the manner of Barbara Pym's.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all